It’s midnight in Laredo, Texas. A Border Patrol agent is on patrol along the border when he hears the crack of bullets across the Rio Grande. Most likely it is another skirmish involving a Mexican drug cartel in Nuevo Laredo. He begins moving his vehicle and a few moments later, hears the clear sound of voices from down along the river, but he cannot be sure because thick, tall carrizo cane is blocking the view.
Without a cell or radio signal and with no way to call for backup, he moves up to higher ground. It could be a caravan of migrants from Central America. It could be members of the warring Cartel del Noreste (CDN) vying for territorial control. It could be drug or human traffickers. He sees movement a few hundred yards down the river, and hits the gas, but must come to a hard stop because the road ends at a gate locked on private land. They get away into the night.
One of the lesser-known but serious obstacles impeding Border Patrol and local law enforcement from doing their jobs is the lack of their ability to see and move freely along the river. Border Patrol has told me that in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the border, which covers 171 miles along the Rio Grande river, they only have 2 miles of navigable, paved road. The 2 miles were built by the government and meant to allow for lateral access along the border.
What does the lack of roads look like in reality? I’ve spent hours with Border Patrol agents as they drive zigzagging on makeshift roads between public and private land and making circuitous detours to get them only a few hundred feet from where they were. They hit gates and have to drive miles out of the way to get where they need to go, ultimately making it impossible to do their job effectively.
Equally harmful to their job on a daily basis is carrizo cane -- an invasive weed that can reach heights of over 25-feet and grows across roughly 60,000 acres along the Rio Grande. The cane does more than simply block visibility. It makes it impossible for law enforcement to navigate large swaths of territory along the river. That means even if law enforcement identifies a group of migrants or a shipment of drugs coming across the border, they don’t have the ability to get there in a time frame that would allow them to intervene.
Don’t believe me? Ask Border Patrol.
Border Patrol Agent Hermann Rivera clearly laid it out last Fall: “[Cane] has actually gone out of control, to where it's grown and grown and it is controlling a lot of the stuff that happens along the Rio Grande Valley Sector. Getting rid of the carrizo cane will give the agents an advantage in apprehending people who are trying to make illegal entry into the United States. We’ll be better able to secure the people and the community as well.”
Drug cartels and human traffickers know that the cane is handicapping Border Patrol and are using it to illegally smuggle migrants and narcotics into the United States. They are exploiting our weaknesses for profit off the backs of migrants because we refuse to do our job.
Moreover, Border Patrol agents rescued almost 5,000 migrants last year, and eradicating the cane will help them in their efforts to save migrants left for dead in the Texas heat and dangerous terrain by smugglers who value profits more than life. Perhaps even more importantly, we must build access roads for Border Patrol, law enforcement, and medical professionals to navigate along the river. New roads will lower response times for Border Patrol, which translates into more seizures of dangerous narcotics, more apprehensions, more lives saved, and a greater ability for law enforcement to do its job.
Last week, I filed the “Border Visibility and Security Act of 2020” to get the job done. My bill provides for the eradication of cane growing along the Rio Grande and construction of navigable roads along the entire Southwest border. These actions are necessary to gain operational control of our southern border and provide CBP with the tools and resources needed to achieve that goal.
My legislation is not meant to replace border fencing -- which I support completing in full immediately -- but is designed to complement and work in tandem with all ongoing efforts to secure the border. Importantly, it provides a funding mechanism that allows for action, rather than rhetoric, to get the job done.
Congress should pass this important legislation, and then get busy addressing the many problems catalyzing our insecure border. We should support President Trump’s efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities, end "catch-and-release," fix the broken Flores settlement, address loopholes in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) so we can return folks safely home, fully fund ICE and CBP, target cartels as the terrorist organizations they are and get busy reclaiming full operational control of our border.
The border is not secure, and we must remain vigilant to secure operational control to protect our national security and the migrants who seek to come here.