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La Linea

Mexico’s drug war is enriching Texas border communities in more ways than one. Not only have wealthy Mexican business owners invested in the region, local law enforcement is benefiting from millions in assets seized from drug traffickers.

Texas has some of the country’s broadest asset-forfeiture rules. The law allows personal assets to be seized by officers during the investigation of possible felonies and misdemeanors. Funds from seized assets are distributed by federal agencies to local law enforcement agencies after joint investigations.

Increasingly, such money is being used to build surveillance networks and militarize the border, which is already bristling with predator drones, armored gun boats, the National Guard and a border fence. Civil liberties advocates like the ACLU want to ensure that privacy laws and First Amendment rights in border communities keep pace with security measures. “With drones and other surveillance technology, our concern is always, what kind of data are they collecting, how is it kept, and what other entities are they sharing it with?” says ACLU of Texas policy strategist Matt Simpson. “Communities need to have a say in how their communities are being policed.”

In September, the Mission Police Department installed a surveillance network of 32 cameras in Mission for an estimated $395,000, according to McAllen newspaper The Monitor. The network is already equipped with automated license plate readers, which can scan and process thousands of license plates per hour. Civil libertarians are concerned that there are virtually no rules or guidelines about how the data can be used and shared.

The department could afford the state-of-the-art technology because it received $1.18 million this year from the seized assets of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, former boss of the Gulf Cartel, who is serving a life sentence in the United States.

More money is on the way. Four decades into America’s war on drugs, asset forfeiture funds at the state and federal level are ballooning. In 2011, the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund was $1.8 billion, more than three times the $500 million balance in 2003.

Defense contractors are following the money. It’s estimated that the state and local law enforcement market for homeland security expenditures will reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from approximately $15.8 billion in 2009, according to a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Now, even the border’s smallest police departments have SWAT units, armored carriers and other military-grade equipment. In August, the Laredo Morning Times reported that the Webb County Sheriff’s office is considering buying a drone helicopter for surveillance. No doubt Webb County can afford it. In September, Sheriff Martin Cuellar received a check for more than $800,000 from the federal government for his department’s role in busting a drug smuggling ring.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, convened a group of elected officials Monday at the Texas Capitol to watch a video taken from the helicopter during the DPS sniper shooting last month where two unarmed Guatemalan men were killed and one critically injured.

The Department of Public Safety helicopter was assisting Texas game wardens as they tried to pull over a pickup truck, during a high speed pursuit near La Joya in Hidalgo County. Wardens reportedly thought the truck was carrying a drug load. Instead it was packed with undocumented Guatemalan migrant workers concealed under a tarp.

After the October 25 fatal shooting, survivors said the tarp had come loose during the pursuit. They said they could clearly be seen by the sniper, according to various news reports.

But Burnam said watching the video footage taken from the helicopter it appeared the tarp was fastened throughout the chase. “I could not by watching this video detect anything other than the tarp being secured. And I could easily see why they thought it was a load of drugs.”

Burnam said he and the other legislators could hear the commentary by the troopers in the helicopter as the chase ensued. After the DPS sniper, Miguel Avila, shot at the truck which was traveling at 80 mph on a caliche road, the truck finally skidded to a stop. Three of the tires had been shot out. “People started bailing out of the back of the truck from under the tarp,” Burnam says. The legislators listened as Avila realized he’d shot at a truckload of people, not a drugload. “He said ‘Oh my god.’ He was just appalled,” says Burnam. No drugs were found in the truck. The men were unarmed.

“It was a horrible tragedy from what I could see in the video,” Burnam says. What troubles him most is that Avila was only following DPS policy and training which allows troopers to shoot at moving vehicles to disable them. Avila shot at the truck because it was approaching a school and the safety of the school children was at stake, claims DPS. A 14-year-old boy was driving the truck packed with Guatemalan migrants.

Burnam says he is concerned about a culture within DPS that is militarizing the border. “The relevant question is there anything we can do to avoid this in the future?” he says. “Steve McCraw, the DPS director, says the agency needs helicopter snipers because we are in a war on drugs, and they keep escalating the battle. There’s an arms race on the border.”

At the meeting Monday, Burnam was joined by State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, State Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston and staffers from the offices of State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen and Republican House Speaker Joe Straus. Burnam said he’s unsure yet whether there will be legislation to change the policy during the upcoming legislative session.

Democrat Pete Gallego won a hotly contested race against Republican Francisco Canseco
PHOTO SOURCE: www.facebook.com/pete.gallego
Democrat Pete Gallego won a hotly contested race against Republican Francisco Canseco.

 

A day after the presidential election, even Republican strategists agree that Mitt Romney blew it with Latino voters and that the GOP has some serious soul searching ahead of it. Deep in the heart of red Texas, Republicans should also see the writing on the wall.

“Clearly, when you look at African-American and Latino voters, they went overwhelmingly for the president,” John Stineman, a Republican strategist from Iowa told Fox News Latino. “And that’s certainly a gap that’s going to require a lot of attention from Republicans.”

Overwhelming is right.  Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote while Romney won a piddly 27 percent, according to national exit polls. Obama did even better than in 2008 with Latino turnout, when he took 67 percent to Republican John McCain’s 31 percent.

Remember more than a decade ago when George W. Bush won about 40 percent of the Latino vote nationally? The Texas Republican Party and groups like the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, co-founded by George W.’s nephew George P. Bush, want to prove it wasn’t an anomaly.

Republican state Chair Steve Munisteri admitted it was crucial to the party’s survival during a 2011 Observer interview: “The Republican Party is living on borrowed time. If every Latino were to vote today in Texas, the Republican Party would lose all of its statewide seats.”

George P. Bush and others were feeling confident after the 2010 election, with six Hispanic Republicans, including Aaron Peña who switched parties, in the Texas House and two in U.S. Congress.

But last night those numbers plummeted. Republicans may still hold the majority of seats in Texas, but Tuesday’s election showed the party has serious problems for relevancy with the growing Hispanic electorate in Texas.

Of the seven Hispanic Republicans elected in 2010, only two remain: State Rep. Larry Gonzalez of Round Rock and U.S. Rep. Bill Flores.

Sure, there were some wins last night for Hispanic Republicans: State Rep. Jason Villalba in Dallas beat his Democratic opponent; Democrat-turned-Republican J.M. Lozano won his Coastal Bend district; and Ted Cruz trounced his democratic opponent for a U.S. Senate seat.

But there were more bruising defeats than triumphs. The biggest was the loss of Congressional District 23, a rural district that spans from San Antonio to El Paso County. Nationally, both parties see the majority Hispanic district as a bellwether that signals which party can best appeal to the growing number of Latino voters. Both sides combined to pour more than $10 million into the race, making it one of the nation’s most expensive per capita.

Last night, Democratic challenger Pete Gallego won the district with 50.3 percent to Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco’s 45.3 percent. (Canseco has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State, claiming voting irregularities). It was a resounding loss for Republicans who poured millions into the race.

The 2012 election has forced the national Republican Party to acknowledge reality—America is more diverse than it used to be. In fact, it’s starting to look a lot like Texas. So as the national Republican Party engages in some soul searching, Texas’s GOP should do the same. Last night’s significant losses do not bode well for the party’s future.

In Gallego-Canseco Race, Big Money in the Big Bend

Key Texas congressional race attracts $7 million from outside groups.
Bill Clinton and Pete Gallego
PHOTO SOURCE: www.facebook.com/pete.gallego.9
Bill Clinton and Pete Gallego.

By Nov. 6, both political parties and their allies will have poured more than $1 billion into campaigns for just a handful of seats in Congress. One of the most hotly contested races—and one of the costliest—is Texas’ 23rd district, where Democrat Pete Gallego is challenging Republican incumbent Francisco “Quico” Canseco. And it’s getting nasty. A total of $10 million has been spent so far, about $660 per registered voter, making this congressional race one of the most expensive races per capita in the nation.

That’s a lot of cash for a sparsely populated congressional district that spans two time zones, from South San Antonio to El Paso County. The big spending is not just because the district will help determine who controls the U.S. House, but also because both parties see the majority Hispanic district as a bellwether that signals which party can best appeal to the growing number of Latino voters. Two years  ago, Republicans broke through when Canseco, from San Antonio, rode the tea party wave to victory, ousting Democrat Ciro Rodriguez by five points. For the first time, the GOP had seven Hispanic Republicans in Congress, which was heralded as a sign that Republicans were finally winning over Latinos.

Now Democrats hope to reclaim the district. Gallego, an attorney and former Democratic state representative from Alpine, has set out to prove that Canseco’s win in 2010 was an aberration in an otherwise Democratic-leaning district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee PAC has spent more than $1.7 million backing Gallego and flew former President Bill Clinton into San Antonio to stump on his behalf. The National Congressional Republican Committee has spent more than $1.6 million supporting Canseco, and the GOP gave the relatively unknown congressman a coveted speaking slot at the convention over the summer.

But the big money in this race is coming from special interests. Outside groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association have already spent more than $7 million on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The outside PAC and super PAC money poured into a blitz of TV ads, mailers and radio spots has given the race a nasty tone. San Antonio, which has the highest concentration of voters in the district, is ground zero for the daily attacks by either side. In his ads, Canseco leans heavily on the term “radical,” claiming that Gallego is backed by “radical environmental groups” and is pro-abortion. He’s also not afraid to use Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary to get himself elected. Both candidates are Catholic and campaigning in a predominantly Catholic district. Recently, Canseco’s campaign sent out Spanish language mailers with a photo of a teen crying next to a doctor’s exam chair draped in Catholic rosaries that says in Spanish “Pete Gallego supports abortion 100 percent.”

Canseco is benefiting from more than $1 million worth of negative ads from a new super PAC called the Congressional Leadership Fund. The latest ad, titled “Hunting,” features an animated rifle shooting down jobs and tax cuts for Texas’s oil and gas industry. The super PACs’ top donors include Chevron Corp., Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino, homebuilder tycoon Bob Perry and reality show millionaire Donald Trump, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics.

Groups supporting Gallego have countered with TV ads by the House Majority PAC and League of Conservation Voters Super PAC, which are spending just under $1 million on media buys. The latest ad claims Canseco was sued by small business clients for deception, and while in Congress he protected corporate tax breaks so jobs could be shipped off shore. Some of the top donors to the super PACs are the Las Vegas workers union, Houston trial layer Amber Mostyn and Fred Eychaner, a Chicago-based media baron and top donor to President Barack Obama.

“There is no doubt in my mind that if every single person in Texas who was eligible to vote registered and voted, this would be a Democratic state,” former President Bill Clinton told a packed auditorium recently during a rally in San Antonio to support Gallego’s campaign. But if Latinos don’t show up at the polls Tuesday, the race could be a narrow victory for Canseco and the Republicans.

Training video from Craft International.
Screen grab from a thecraft.com video
Video screen grab from www.thecraft.com.

 

I came across this over the top video – complete with heavy metal soundtrack and camo fatigues – by the private security firm called Craft International, which is training DPS troopers to be helicopter snipers. The video looks like a commercial for a “Call of Duty” game and it shows the firm’s founder Chris Kyle training the troopers in “helo-platform shooting.”

Craft International was founded in 2010 by Kyle, a former Navy SEAL and author of “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History,” about his tours of duty in Iraq. His company’s motto is: “Despite what your mamma told you, violence does solve problems.” Craft’s  video glorifies Texas’ DPS sniper program, and makes it look like the troopers are training for a foray into Fallujah instead of keeping the peace in Texas.

Last week, many were shocked, including some national law enforcement experts, when it was revealed that Texas’ Department of Public Safety has helicopter snipers shooting to disable vehicles during high speed chases along the border.

The DPS program resulted in tragedy after two unarmed men were killed and one was critically injured on October 25th after a DPS sniper shot from a helicopter at a truck during a high speed chase near La Joya in Hidalgo County.

“Texas police officers have made using helicopters a priority, and they take helo-platform shooting very seriously, ” according to a recent article in Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement magazine.  When you see a video like this it makes you wonder what else is DPS up to?

Training video from Craft International.
Video screen grab from www.thecraft.com

Since a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter sniper fatally shot two Guatemalan men and critically injured another last week during a high speed pursuit,  the Hidalgo County District Attorney has asked the DPS to suspend its helicopter sniper program in Hidalgo County.

DPS Director Steve McCraw has asked the FBI to investigate the incident. Local community leaders, civil rights groups and and a handul of elected officials have also asked for both a state review of the program and a DOJ investigation into the incident. A Hidalgo County grand jury will also look at the case.

The men killed were Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, 32, and Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada, 29. Coj Cumar was a father of three who had come to the United States because his son needed surgery. Castro was a father of two whose wife is three months pregnant. Both men were from the town of San Martin Jilotepeque, about an hour outside of Guatemala City. A third man, who was wounded, is still in the hospital.

Law enforcement experts told the San Antonio Express-News last week that they were stunned by the DPS policies, which allowed snipers to disable vehicles during high speed pursuits. Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who has studied police pursuits across the country, said he’d “never heard of law enforcement agencies allowing officers to shoot at vehicles from helicopters.”

“There’s a trend to restrict officers from shooting at vehicles at all,” Alpert told the Express-News. “It’s not an efficient or effective policy to let officers shoot from vehicles, and certainly not from a helicopter.”

The DPS aerial sniper program, however, is just a fraction of the state law enforcement agency’s push toward using military tactics in civil law enforcement. To my knowledge, state elected officials have not scrutinized DPS’ new armored gun boat program or looked at the program’s lethal force policies. Each gun boat is stocked with several machine guns. No one has been shot yet by DPS on the Rio Grande, but last month a U.S. Border Patrol agent opened fire from a patrol boat at people standing on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo. One man was fatally shot. Border Patrol says the people were throwing rocks. The FBI is investigating the incident.

DPS troopers received their aerial sniper training from a private outfit called Craft International, which was founded by Texan Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL and the author of “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History,” about his years fighting in Iraq.

According to an upcoming story in Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement magazine’s January issue, Craft International trained DPS troopers in “aerial platform shooting.” “Because of the current border wars and strategic interests for potential terrorists,” the article explains, “Texas police officers have made using helicopters a priority, and they take helo-platform shooting very seriously.”

Craft International’s motto on its website is: “Despite what your mamma told you, violence does solve problems.” They also include a video glorifying the DPS sniper program on their site, which makes a nice commercial for other law enforcement itching to start their own helicopter sniper program.

 

DPS officers train in Ganado, TX. PHOTO SOURCE: GANADO POLICE DEPARTMENT ON FACEBOOK.

The Facebook page for the Ganado Police Department, (Ganado is located between Houston and Corpus Christi) shows DPS troopers training for the helicopter sniper program in 2011.

Recently, DPS Director Steve McCraw spent $7.4 million on a high altitude spy plane, according to G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Hopefully, legislators will start asking questions next session, McCraw will have plenty of explaining to do—and hopefully it won’t take another tragedy like last week’s to reveal problems with the agency’s border security programs.

 

First the armored boats with machine guns on the Rio Grande now helicopter snipers. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, seems bent on turning Texas border communities into Iraq.

On Thursday a DPS helicopter sniper-opened fire on a truck on a Texas highway killing two men and injuring a third passenger near La Joya in Hidalgo County, reports the McAllen Monitor. Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers were pursuing the red truck, which they thought contained a drug load and called for back up from a DPS helicopter. It turned out the truck was not carrying drugs but nine Guatemalan nationals and an unidentified driver.

What is especially disturbing about the shooting incident is the testimony from the survivors in the truck. Alba Caceres, the Guatemalan Consul General in McAllen told the Monitor that survivors testified the tarp had flown off the truck exposing the people in the pick up bed so that it was clear to the sniper the truck was transporting people, not drugs.

“I know my people are in the wrong crossing illegally and I know that the government of this country has to protect their border, but to shoot at unarmed humans is beyond me,” Caceres told the Monitor. “I can’t conceive how a police officer fires at unarmed humans. These are people from humble origins that even at first glance do not look like hardened criminals.”

The two deceased men were between ages 20 to 25; one was the father of two, the other the father of three, reports the San Antonio Express-News. Their names were withheld, pending official notification of relatives.

The nine Guatemalans travelling in the truck left the same city together on October 8, Caceres told the Express-News. Each had paid $2,000 to be taken from San Martín Jilotepeque in the state of Chimaltenango, Guatemala through Mexico, and then another $3,000 to be brought to the United States. Most were headed for jobs in New Jersey.

The trooper who shot the men has been put on administrative leave, according to DPS. Lethal force can be used when the officer or someone else is at substantial risk of death or bodily injury, according to agency policy.

A trooper trained to use an AR-10 rifle from the air mans nearly every DPS helicopter, reports the Express-News. DPS Director Steve McCraw told the newspaper the snipers were needed to protect troopers on the ground when patrolling the border.

“That’s what our aerial assets are doing, and we need to protect those aerial assets and in doing so, we put a sniper on those,” he said. “And we’re really not apologetic about it. We’ve got an obligation to protect our men and women when we’re trying to protect Texas.”

I suggest you read both the San Antonio Express-News and Monitor stories to get more details because this shooting incident really is remarkable both for its cruelty and sheer lack of logic.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in our state leadership at the moment who appears sane enough to tell DPS Director McCraw that shooting unarmed people from a helicopter is a bad idea.

Is it just me or have our state leaders turned into the cast for The Expendables? With Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeting to an international election monitoring group last week “BRING IT” and Ag Commissioner Todd Staples advocating for “sanitary tactical zones along the border” and a Governor who shoots coyotes with a laser-sighted pistol who’s really going to put the brakes on McCraw’s transformation into Dr. Strangelove?

Photo by Eugenio del Bosque
Migrant children deported into Reynosa, Mexico

In January 2012, the number of unaccompanied Central American children crossing into the United States suddenlydoubled. As months passed, the number of children apprehended at the border just kept growing. U.S. government officials scrambled to find shelters for the influx of children and nonprofits struggled to figure out why so many kids were willing to risk the long, dangerous journey to the United States.

These children who have been apprehended at the U.S. border, ranging in ages from 4 to 18, primarily come from three countries: Guatemala (35 percent), El Salvador (27 percent) and Honduras (25 percent).  All three countries are currently experiencing some of the highest murder rates in the world. Much of the violence is being spurred by drug trafficking, weak state institutions, corruption and gang violence. The New York-based Women’s Refugee Commission spent several months interviewing the children detained in the United States and on Monday released its report, “The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America.”

What the group found was that poverty is no longer the primary reason children are migrating to the United States—what’s driving them from their homes is fear. “They fear for their lives,” said commission attorney Jessica Jones in a telephone press conference Monday. “What we heard from many of the children is, ‘I know I may die on the journey, but I knew I would die if I stayed home,’” she said.

Researchers at the nonprofit commission interviewed more than 150 children detained in the United States and met with U.S. government agencies tasked with handling the influx of children. The commission came to the troubling conclusion that this level of migration will be the new norm due to the growing rates of violence in Central America.

Children cited public schools overrun by violent gangs and neighborhoods divided by gang affiliation where people can’t move freely without being threatened with violence. Girls cited an increase in gang rapes and street violence and said that authorities were unable to protect them. Jones said the commission interviewed one 11-year-old girl who had been paying protection money since she was 9 to prevent gang members from raping her and her grandmother. “At age 11, she raised the money herself and found a guide to take her to the United States,” said Jones. “For these children the United States represents hope and a place of security.”

This is why it was especially shocking to find that some of the children were abused and mistreated by U.S. Border Patrol agents after being apprehended, according to the report’s findings. Several children reported being kicked, tasered and being called names like “filthy pig” and “worthless,” according to Michelle Brane, director of the committee’s detention and asylum program.

Brane said they interviewed a 17-year old boy who reported that Border Patrol agents near McAllen grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to the ground, then tasered him. “He was most upset because they did the same thing to a pregnant woman also apprehended in his group,” Brane says. “He couldn’t understand why they would Taser a pregnant woman.”

The commission also spoke with two girls ages 12 and 14, who were beaten by Border Patrol agents. One girl’s injuries were severe enough to require she be taken to the hospital. The girl was too afraid to tell the doctor about how her injuries had been caused because the same guard was standing right next to her in the exam room, says Brane.

The report makes several recommendations for U.S. government institutions caring for the migrant children from smaller group home facilities to more child friendly holding places that look less like detention facilities. And it recommends that Border Patrol prioritize screening for asylum cases and care for migrant children. “This migration is going to be the new norm,” said Brane. “And here in the United States we need to make sure that basic human rights are met.”

PHOTO BY MAY-EK QUERALES
Juan Frairie Escobedo at the El Paso press conference Tuesday.

On Sunday in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte triumphantly announced before the TV cameras that police had finally caught the man who killed well-known activist Marisela Escobedo on the Chihuahua State Capitol steps in December 2010.

At the time of her death, Marisela was holding a vigil to bring her 16-year-old daughter’s killer to justice, one of the dozens of marches and events that made her famous in Mexico for her courage and persistence in seeking justice in the murder of her daughter Rubi Fraire Escobedo.

At a press conference held by the state police Sunday, Jose Enrique Jimenez Zavala, known as “El Wicked,” was presented as the man who shot Marisela Escobedo. According to police, Jimenez is an alleged gunman for the Los Aztecas gang, which are enforcers for the Juarez cartel. In a televised confession, the 29-year-old Jimenez said he carried out Escobedo’s murder on orders from the Zetas and La Linea (gunmen for the Juarez cartel). Jimenez said they wanted her killed because she was drawing too much attention through her protests.

The only problem is that Jimenez isn’t the killer, says Escobedo’s son, Juan Fraire Escobedo. In a press conference Tuesday at the El Paso law office of Carlos Spector, Juan said that his uncle—who was an eyewitness to the murder of Marisela—ID’d the killer but Mexican authorities have done nothing to capture him. Escobedo, who is seeking political asylum in the United States, says the man who killed his mother is an U.S. citizen but works for organized crime in Mexico.

“I’m very sad and angry that they still haven’t resolved my mother’s case,” he said in a telephone interview after the press conference. “We met with the Mexican authorities at the Mexican consulate in El Paso last year and ID’d the criminal. They promised there would be an investigation. But after that they never responded to me again. Jimenez is not the man who killed my mother.”

Mexican authorities have also failed to solve the murder of his sister Rubi, he says, which occurred in 2008.  Sergio Barraza, Rubi’s former boyfriend, confessed to the killing and even led authorities to where he had burnt her body, but the judges declared him innocent for lack of evidence. Marisela began a campiagn for judicial reform and was working to have Barraza arrested when she was killed. According to Juan Fraire Escobedo, Barraza is now a member of the Zetas Cartel.

Fraire Escobedo says the only thing he agrees with from the government’s claims this week is that the orders to kill his mother were given by the Zetas and La Linea. “Jimenez is nothing more than a scapegoat for the authorities,” he says.

To learn more about Juan Fraire Escobedo’s fight for justice for his family hear him speak at a Texas Observer forum last March with the nonprofit group Mexicans in Exile, who are advocating for justice and human rights in Mexico.

PHOTO BY PATRICK MICHELS
Todd Staples

Texas is an urban state, and commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture has become one of the more obscure statewide offices. Most Texans don’t regularly think about boll weevil eradication or irrigation issues, especially when they’re sitting in traffic on I-10. Ag commissioner just isn’t the political stepping-stone it once was. So what’s an ambitious politician who wants to run for higher office to do?

For Todd Staples, the answer is to run the Department of Agriculture like he’s Chuck Norris.

Staples, a Republican who’s openly running for lieutenant governor in 2014, has made the threat of narco-terrorism on the Mexico border his central issue. If you’re wondering what narco-terrorism has to do with agriculture, well, Staples claims that drug cartels are threatening Texas farmers and, in turn, our food supply.

In late August, the ag commissioner was the keynote speaker at a narco-terrorism conference at Angelo State University, where he plugged the debut of his 16-part video series titled “Texas Traffic—True Stories of Drug and Human Smuggling.” The department is posting these videos on the ag department’s ProtectYourTexasBorder.com site. Each week, the website features a new interview with a border resident or law-enforcement official.

At the narco-terrorism conference, Staples argued that the federal government hasn’t done enough to secure the border. Among his solutions: triple the number of “boots on the ground,” send surplus military equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan to the border, and categorize cartel violence as “terroristic activity by violent transnational organizations.”

“It’s time for the federal government to answer the call of duty and provide sufficient protection for our citizens and resources,” Staples said in written statement to the Observer about why he created the video series and the website. “Bullet holes don’t lie. The ProtectYourTexasBorder website provides firsthand accounts of the dangers along our border. Farmers and ranchers along the Rio Grande are caught in the middle of a conflict that affects every citizen of our nation. A threat to our food supply is a threat to our homeland security. Texas stands ready to fight these terrorists and protect our residents, but we must have increased federal support to secure our borders, defeat our enemies and safeguard our national food supply.”

Lambasting the federal government for not securing the border has become a tried-and-true talking point for any Republican candidate with aspirations for higher office. Last year, Staples commissioned an $80,000 study by two retired U.S. Army generals that called for turning Texas border counties into “sanitary tactical zones” where military operations can push back the narco-terrorists.

Some border residents aren’t pleased with Staples’ zeal to militarize their hometowns. One of his biggest critics, it turns out, is Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who told The Monitor newspaper in McAllen that his border county last year had its second-lowest crime rate in 15 years. “To say the farmers and ranchers have been victimized personally—other than the trespassing—have been assaulted, threatened?” Treviño said. “I don’t have the statistics to support those allegations.”

“People who run into border-related trouble should report the problem to law enforcement,” Treviño told The Monitor, “instead of telling Staples, who isn’t a law-enforcement official and can’t directly tackle the problem. And that’s why I find [it] so frustrating. And I don’t know, maybe Commissioner Staples is looking to beef up his political résumé. Why else would you do something like that?”

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