Ag Commissioner Declares War on the Border

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Lately it seems that Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples would rather have the Texas Department of Agriculture become a wing of the U.S. Department of Defense than a Texas state agency. Not long ago, Staples commissioned an $80,000 “strategic military assessment” of the Texas border. The Ag Commissioner released the 182-page tome, written by two retired generals, yesterday in a press conference at the Texas Capitol.

If you hadn’t heard, Staples is running for Lieutenant Governor in 2014. For the past year, the Ag Commissioner has been beating the war drums and burnishing his border security credentials. Last March, he unveiled a fancy, new taxpayer-funded Web site called Protect Your Texas Border” which offers such highlights as night-vision surveillance chases of drug traffickers along the Rio Grande and a video interview with a Texas Ranger who proclaims: “We are in a war and I am not going to sugarcoat it by any means. We are in a war, and it is what it is.”

The Web site also hosts a forum where visitors are encouraged to share their views on securing the border. The forum was dinged by the press, however, after a number of posts advocated for vigilante justice offering such gems of advice as “Killem all!!!! They are destroying or great country.”

Now, we have Staples’ “military assessment” advocating for greater militarization of the border, which sets a dangerous precedent and adds to the growing campaign by the GOP to turn Mexico into Afghanistan. In the report written by retired Generals Barry McCaffery and Robert Scales drug cartel operatives are referred to as “narco-terrorists” and U.S. border counties are referred to as the “sanitary tactical zone” where military operations can push back the “narco-terrorists.” The generals applaud the Texas Department of Public Safety’s “comprehensive military-like operational campaign against narco-terrorists” and suggest that Texas serve as the national model for the nation-wide militarization of the border.

“Five years of state operations have yielded valuable lessons and insights that can improve the border security operations of states and U.S. federal agencies. Below are insights shared by senior leaders within the Texas DPS who consider their operations in the war against narco-terrorism to be a model for how war might be prosecuted in a wider, multi-state and national campaign. They accede to the face that much of their effort was derived from experience in recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan…”

The only problem is this isn’t a war and U.S. border counties — last I checked — are still considered part of the United States and civilian territory. They also boast crime and murder rates far lower than cities such as Washington, D.C., according to FBI crime statistics.

Despite this fact, GOP leaders are pushing ahead at both the federal and state level to turn the border region into a theater of war. After 9/11, Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security the right to set up internal checkpoints within 100 miles of the international borders where they have the ability to stop people, question them and ask them to prove their citizenship. Now, Staples and other politicians are calling for more militarization which will inevitably deteriorate further U.S. citizens constitutional rights.

I don’t want to understate the growing security crisis in Mexico. It does have an impact on the United States. But a military-only solution doesn’t address the underlying factors that are fueling organized crime’s takeover of Mexico – namely poverty, impunity, government corruption and the U.S’. multi-billion dollar drug market.

It’s a purely cynical and political move to only push for militarization and not address the myriad social, economic and political issues fueling the crisis in Mexico. For Republican candidates such as Staples issues such as combating poverty, immigration reform or revising our outmoded drug laws are not politically expedient. They just don’t draw GOP Primary voters to the election booths like armored cars or boots on the ground, which is a shame for both the United States and Mexico.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.