Staples calls for workforce reform, better enforcement in border debate
Posted on February 18, 2013 at 9:02 PM
Updated Monday, Feb 18 at 9:21 PM
AUSTIN -- It's the Texas border seen through the eyes of law enforcement.
Featuring interviews with officers and ranchers along the border separating Texas and Mexico, the Texas Department of Agriculture's video series "Texas Traffic: True Stories of Drug and Human Trafficking" has been posting new footage to the department's YouTube account since summer 2012.
The project is part of a concerted effort to highlight and address the issues of border security and illegal immigration by Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples, who detailed his findings and thoughts on the subject in a newly released book entitled Broken Borders, Broken Promises.
"I was in a DPS helicopter in the middle of the night observing DPS interaction with Border Patrol," recalled Staples. "It dawned on me, we don't know if they're going after heavily armed drug cartel members or they're going after someone that's violating our entry laws but were otherwise looking for a job."
Efforts under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush have doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, adding sophisticated surveillance including aerial drones. While Staples said the new technology has been helpful, he warns fighting aggressive drug traffickers will take even more.
"We had landowners being chased off their property, we had the administration saying then the border is safer than ever," Staples said. "They continue to say that today. If that was true, we wouldn't have landowners that refused to go on camera without securing their identity and blurring their faces. We wouldn't have landowners that are afraid to go on their own property."
While border issues were emergency items for the 82nd Texas Legislature in 2011, they appear to be on the back burner this session. Of the more than 2,000 bills filed by the 83rd Texas Legislature, fewer than a dozen address immigration or border security.
"Our legislative leaders are recognizing that the problems we have are because our federal government has failed to act," Staples told KVUE. "I think they are focusing on ways that we can encourage that."
State lawmakers have shown interest in one specific area of immigration reform. Of the few bills that have been filed, most deal with expanding or regulating the use of E-Verify, a federal program allowing employers to electronically verify a person's legal status before hiring them.
"Our nation has been dependent on a guest labor force for decades," said Staples, who points to the end of the Bracero Program as one of the major factors that contributed to the beginning of the nation's illegal immigration problem.
Formally called the Mexican Farm Labor Program, the Bracero Program allowed temporary workers from Mexico into the U.S. to provide manual labor during World War II until it was ended in the mid-1960s. Staples suggests addressing today's underground illegal workforce is the most important factor in achieving significant immigration reform.
"It starts with reforming our failed workforce system that is the culprit for those being here undocumented today," said Staples, adding that additional federal resources aimed to combat drug and human trafficking are also key. "We could be a force multiplier if they were able to be targeted toward the illegal drug cartels and we use an efficient and effective legal workforce system today."
Many have raised questions over the role the federal government's "War On Drugs" has had in the nature and level of border violence initiated by drug cartels. With a number of states moving to decriminalize marijuana, advocates of further efforts suggest such a step would remove a significant economic driver for drug trafficking.
"We need to be smart in whatever we do," said Staples, pointing out that cartels transport a variety of other illegal drugs as well. "I don't want to yield to that type of evil in any sense of the imagination. We cannot give in to ruthless, terroristic organizations."
With America's economic opportunity still the main draw for immigrants both legal and otherwise, solving the problem will likely require a bipartisan effort. Though he disagrees with the pathway to citizenship proposed by President Obama, Staples said mass deportation isn't the answer either.
"We need to find a different way to handle the undocumented that are here today," said Staples. "We need to first of all start with the recognition that our nation's current policy is to deport individuals who enter our country illegally. Obviously it's not working very well, otherwise we wouldn't have 11 to 20 million people here. Our Republican party recognizes that we need to correct the status of those that are here, do it in a way that we're pro legal immigration but do it in a way that doesn't make the mistakes of past amnesty."