Imagine if the government was still operating on a short-term stopgap budget bill? The president would have the leverage of a funding bill with all the information now available to the public depicting the unprecedented emergency at our border. Yet, that leverage was signed away for an omnibus bill that actually made the policy worse and threw pennies at a partial border fence with a number of limitations. Now, one of those limitations is coming home to roost, and it was done so by design.
To begin with, all new border barrier construction authorized in the February budget bill was limited to the liberal Rio Grande Valley (RGV) sector. Why does the politics of that border sector matter? Section 232(a) of the bill stated, “prior to use of any funds made available by this Act for the construction of physical barriers” the Department of Homeland Security “shall confer and seek to reach mutual agreement regarding the design and alignment of physical barriers within that city.” With whom must the feds consult? “The local elected officials.”
Starr County, Texas, for example, went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a margin of 79 percent to 19 percent. Not only is the RGV a Democrat bastion, sadly, many public officials and even law enforcement in the area have been indicted in recent years on charges of working with dangerous Mexican cartels. As Breitbart Texas reported at the time, several Starr County Sheriffs, among other local leaders, have been sent to prison for working with the cartels. Needless to say, there is not a lot of support among the political leaders of this area to build a wall, as I warned back in February.
Fast-forward two months and Henry Cuellar, one of the Democrat congressmen from the region, is bragging about having placed this provision in the bill and seeing it bear fruit. On Wednesday, Rep. Cuellar sent out a press release, picked up by the Texas Monitor, boasting that the planned levee fencing system at the Rio Grande River for Starr County has now been cut in half from eight miles long to just four miles.
“I worked hard to include language through the appropriations process that would protect communities from an ineffective and divisive border wall. This change order reduces the number of miles from eight to four in Starr County,” Cuellar wrote in the release.
Evidently, the mayors of La Grulla and Roma, a pair of small border towns on opposite sides of Starr County, each protested the construction of the levee fencing along the Rio Grande River. Cuellar is the one who helped secure the provision in the bill granting veto authority to local officials. Somehow, when it comes to the most quintessential national issue in scope (securing our international border) Democrats are suddenly big fans of localism.
Congressman Cuellar was concerned for the “ecologically sensitive areas” of the county and the effects of border wall construction on those environmental and historically sensitive areas. Every day, thousands of illegal aliens trample through the area and the cartels and drug runners engage in dangerous high-speed bailouts to avoid detection. Those ecological effects never seem to factor in their political calculous. In March, Jim Chilton, an Arizona border rancher, told me that the cartels have caused “incalculable” environmental harm to his property, including setting forest fires, thanks to the lack of border fencing.
Jaeson Jones, a retired captain for Texas’s Department of Public Safety was indignant about this decision to block fencing in these particular areas. “It is shameful that elected officials would stop construction of a border wall in this area putting the lives of our citizens at further risk,” said Jones, who spent many years coordinating counter-cartel operations in the Rio Grande Valley for the Intelligence and Counterterrorism division of Texas DPS. “In Texas, Starr County is known for being one of the most unsecure areas of the border. For decades, it has been fraught with Mexican cartels, drug trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling and riddled with public corruption.”
Jones warned that Roma is one of the worst places to block fencing. “Across from Roma, Texas lies Miguel Aleman, Mx which is a small community under the control of the Gulf Cartel. On a monthly basis, more than five tons of narcotics are smuggled into the United States in this one area alone. Two weeks ago, the Gulf Cartel (CDG) and Cartel Del Noreste (CDN) killed over thirty people in two days of fighting in the small town of Miguel Aleman. Seven cartel armored vehicles were burned and for days automatic weapons and explosions could be heard throughout the small town of Roma, Texas. As a result, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the United States Customs and Border Protection had to send special operations units to help protect communities on the U.S. side of the border.”
The brilliance of the Democrats who crafted the omnibus signed by the president is that they blocked off most federal and state lands from construction of border barriers. Those were the only areas where local authorities would not have inherent authority over the construction. Thus, between the provisions limiting the wall to the liberal Rio Grande Valley, granting veto authority to local officials, and walling off federal and state parks, they have all their bases covered. Even with just one branch of government, Democrats are successfully building a wall around border security.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.