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20140521 Mission Staples-boat-tour 1764 featureCindy Hyde-Smith had read about the border and seen news reports about Mexican drug cartels, but Wednesday she and eight other agriculture commissioners from around the country toured the border for themselves.

“I thought the river would be bigger than it is,” said Hyde-Smith, Mississippi agriculture commissioner. “We were very surprised coming from the Mississippi River. The rest of us throughout the country, we just are not aware of the problem that’s here. It's very real, and it makes you realize this is just the front line. This is everybody’s problem; this is not just Texas’ problem.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples invited Hyde-Smith and seven other commissioners from Maryland, Maine, Wyoming and other states to tour the border with him and see first-hand the challenges with border security and immigration.

Staples has been an advocate for increased border security and guest worker reform, especially after he said he heard from farmers and ranchers on the border concerned about people trespassing on their property.

The U.S. Border Patrol McAllen substation is overrun with people in the country illegally, he said, adding that during the group’s tour they saw 1,000 people detained in a facility built to hold 350.

“We know that Washington must act, but they have difficulty coming together,” Staples said. “And to be frank, politicians from both parties have let us down when it comes to immigration reform and border security.”

Staples said he hopes that the agriculture commissioners will go home and talk to their respective congressmen and senators about the issue and push for more resources along the border. He said he’s appreciative of a recent boost in funding for federal officers on the border, but it isn’t enough.

Border security would be enhanced with a guest worker program, said Staples, who made the issue a part of his platform in a failed bid for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor this year.

Alabama, which in 2011 passed what some considered the harshest immigration law in the country, has had a difficult time getting workers, Staples said, adding that farmers have had to reduce their acreage because they don’t have a large enough workforce. However, after several entities took the law to court, the state is working on a settlement agreement that would water the law down.

It’s important to look at the issue from both the angle of security as well as the economy.

“I want people coming into our country legally in the daylight across our bridges, not illegally in the dead of the night in the brush,” Staples said. “It is shameful that in our nation today it is easier for an employer to hire someone here who is an undocumented worker than it is a legally documented guest worker.

“That’s the state that our federal laws have put our employers in.”

After a boat trip down the Rio Grande with border officers, Hyde-Smith said she hopes their visit spurs serious dialogue about immigration and securing the border. During their time in the Valley, they heard about nearby property owners told to disappear for a week by cartels expecting to receive a load on private land, Hyde-Smith said.

The day before, she said, they saw children at the McAllen station. There have been recent reports of an increased number of children with no documentation crossing the border by themselves. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson declared “Level 4 condition of readiness” in South Texas last week. The declaration opens a temporary emergency shelter for children at Lackland Air Force Base that can hold up to 1,000 children.

The situation affected Hyde-Smith on a maternal level, and she was concerned for their quality of life.

“All these children, and they’re in these cells, and they weren’t alarmed,” Hyde-Smith said. “They didn’t seem to be frantic. It was just like, ‘This is the process.’”

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