Texas farmers want Biden to pay for damage from illegal immigration

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Farmers in Texas have had it with human traffickers streaming illegal immigrants across the border under President Biden’s watch — saying that “coyotes abandon people, steal vehicles, vandalize property and threaten the safety and livelihoods of farmers and ranchers” — and now they want the White House to write them a check for the damages.

The largest organization of farmers in America has taken action behind the scenes this summer to recoup the money that its members have had to fork over during the first six months of the Biden administration to cover all sorts of issues prompted by the spike in illegal migration at the US-Mexico boundary, where more non-citizens are being apprehended while attempting to illegally enter the country every month than any other time in the past 21 years, according to federal data.

Texas Farmers Bureau president Russell Boening told The Post that his group’s farmers, including those who live hundreds of miles north of the international boundary, are seeing human smugglers drive vehicles through their fields of crops, residences broken into, and families left stranded on their property.

The activity has reached a level where farmers are desperate for federal help to stop the crime and cannot sustain the financial hits.

Faced with calls by members to represent their concerns to Washington, the American Farm Bureau Federation, all 50 state bureaus, and the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau sent a letter in early June to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, asking the Biden administration to address what local communities were experiencing. 

“Coyotes abandon people, steal vehicles, vandalize property and threaten the safety and livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. They are often criminals who smuggle drugs and firearms into the country, frequently leaving them on farmers’ and ranchers’ property, causing unrest for farm and ranch families,” the letter stated.

The White House agreed to a virtual meeting in late June and farm bureau officials pleaded their case before top federal officials, explaining not only how landowners across Texas were being impacted by rising illegal immigration but the need for financial assistance because of the disaster.

“Local and state border security resources have been exhausted, leaving little help for farmers and ranchers. We respectfully request federal authorities work promptly to provide additional resources and enforce legal immigration to secure U.S. borders,” the farm bureaus wrote.

“The current situation should not be acceptable to you or to any American. People are being treated as a disposable source of income, and landowners are living in fear while Coyotes reap a windfall from leaving people destitute.”

Boening said the financial implications are not yet known, but they include things like broken fences, stolen pickup trucks and ruined crops.

“You have that economic issue and then you have just the safety issue — the mental strain — and to a certain extent being afraid for your own safety on your own property when you’re out checking crops, checking livestock, doing things just in your normal course of business,” said Boening.

Farmers and ranchers who live near the border are accustomed to encountering migrants on their property, even helping the occasional passerby in need of water or a ride into town, but it has evolved since January not only in the number of people coming across, but the involvement of transnational criminal organizations desperate to get families and children into the country whereas high levels of illegal migration during the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations were often Mexican farmworkers.

A human smuggler driving a vehicle that is filled with a dozen to two dozen migrants who are being transported from the border to deeper within the state may go off the road to avoid detection and drive through a field, inevitably going through fences that not only mark where property lines end, but also meant to keep livestock in a contained area.

Every time a vehicle rams through a fence, the repairs cost between an average of $1,000 and $4,000. 

Some landowners are fixing fences multiple times a week, according to Richard Guerra, a fourth-generation rancher in Roma, Texas.

Boening said he had heard of a property in Lavaca County, more than 200 miles north of the border, where the owner recently lost six fences. On top of the cost of fixing the fence, ranchers risk livestock escaping through a fence hole, especially if a vehicle rams through the fence overnight. Farmers lose crops that are destroyed by vehicles driving through fields.

But that is not the biggest concern for Guerra, who lives in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where more people attempt to get across than any other part of the nearly 2,000-mile international boundary, in part because it is the most southern part of the US and shortest distance from Central America, from where most migrants are traveling. 

“The biggest expense is the fever tick. It comes from Mexico because Mexico does not do what the US government does. We have laws, we get restrictions, and then we have to abide by to keep our cattle clean. Well, Mexico doesn’t,” said Guerra.

“But it’s not just limited to animals and horses. Some of these migrants also carry the fever tick [as a result of passing through Mexico into the US]. And when they step on your property, chances are they’re going to drop the tick.”

The cost and length of time that farmers and ranchers must spend to eradicate a fever tick breakout is exorbitant. One expense in resolving fever ticks is hiring helicopters to spray, up to $400 per hour, Guerra said.

Some of the costs sustained by landowners can be reimbursed by insurance companies, but for lost crops and fences that need to be rebuilt several times a week or month, the landowners are often on their own, and that is where they are looking for the government to help in a way similar to how the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency helps people affected by natural disasters.

“When there’s a disaster of some kind — people lose property or lose their home, or lose part of their property — there’s places that you can go apply and say, ‘OK, this is what I lost. Here’s my documentation,’” said Boening. “We don’t have a direct way to do it. I mean, if the administration is going to come up with something, it’s going to have to be administered and run by them.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has deployed state law enforcement and National Guard to the border, as well as law enforcement from non-border states. He has vowed to put up hundreds of miles of border wall up and down the state’s 1,250-mile boundary with Mexico, but neither of those addresses the flow of people or cartels’ involvement.

Boening said it is the federal government’s responsibility to resolve this, as well as help those who have been impacted, including the migrants themselves who are victimized through the smuggling process.

Farm Bureau officials from Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas met with White House representatives four weeks ago. 

“They assured us that they were taking it to the administration, and they would get back with us on some things that the administration is doing,” said Boening. “I haven’t seen that yet.”

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