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Migrant Nation

Texas Ag Commissioner fueling fronteraphobia

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Lawlessness, widespread violence, and constant threats from vicious drug gangs.

That's the frightening portrayal of life in Texas border counties gleaned from the latest report from the Texas Department of Agriculture, further fueling an intensely politicized debate over security along the Texas-Mexico border. Referencing “insurgents” and “narco-terrorists,” the report, drafted by two retired Army generals, insists that living in Texas border counties is “tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies as well as citizens are under attack around the clock.”

The report, though called a “military assessment” of the Texas-Mexico border, makes a deeply political splash, coming as the ideological chasm between Democratic and GOP rhetoric over border security  continues to widen.

President Obama, in May, traveled to El Paso, seated across the border from Murder City itself, Juarez, declaring that millions spent to ramp up security along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years had made it safer and more secure than ever. He also charged that GOP lawmakers continue to use the specter of border security to stall true reform of the nation's broken immigration system.

Now gracing the national stage, Governor Rick Perry has hit back hard. In one GOP presidential debate last month he bristled that Obama was either ill informed about the situation along the border or an “abject liar.” Most recently, he famously floated the idea of sending American troops into Mexico to help quell the violent drug war raging there.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is no stranger to political posturing on border security either, and his new report coincides with his own run for lieutenant governor. He commissioned the $80,000, 182-page military assessment this summer soon after launching his own taxpayer funded website, which quickly became a digital dump for calls for vigilante justice along the Rio Grande from anonymous commenters advocating everything from land mines to “tiger traps.” Among the more alarming comments: “Killem all!!!! They are destroying or [sic] great country.”

Soon after Staples held a press conference last week announcing the report, Democratic Congressmen Silvestre Reyes of El Paso chided what he called “outrageous claims to promote reactionary measures, such as militarizing the border.” In a lengthy statement slamming the new report, he said, “This is yet another example of how Republicans continue to distort the facts and manipulate crime statistics to mischaracterize the border as out-of-control.”

The report itself relies largely on anecdotal cases gleaned from Staple's controversial website, and the most serious charges of violence and intimidation are anonymous, somewhat sketchy, and offer few details, giving a starkly different account of border life than the one emerging from FBI crime stats – that Texas border hubs like Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso continue to see low homicide figures, even as their populations swell.

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