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The Border is a Rural Issue

It is up to rural Democrats to solve it.

As with most rural issues, Texas Democrats ceded the border to the GOP long ago. With the exception of a few places such as El Paso, the Rio Grande is a rural place with rural problems. While Governor Abbott and state leaders bear most of the blame for the present catastrophe on the border, Democrats cannot escape responsibility either. We allowed it by not tackling this issue head on and failing to present a practical and coherent alternative, and communicate it forcefully and persuasively. That is not surprising. As a whole Democrats offer no solutions for rural places or rural issues. Why should the border be any different?

I suspect one reason Democrats have failed on the border is because we are afraid to try. The border and its problems are complex, and anything complex is hard to explain to voters. To extremist Republicans it is simple: Secure the Border. Democrats, are like "Well first you have to understand the complex nature and culture of the border and our special relationship with and interdependence with our partner to the South...." The old saying goes that if you are explaining your are losing. We are explaining and we are losing big time.

What we overlook is the fact that the GOP offers nothing but a big government, big dollar solution to what it casts as a national security/law enforcement problem. Democrats should do the opposite. We should propose the most obvious solution that strikes at the real heart of the issue. But this requires us to look at the problem from a different perspective. It requires us to think and talk about it in a new way, not with the same old answers like more Border Patrol, more fences and more razor wire.

There are as many reasons why people want to enter the United States as there all people. But I group them into two very general categories of reasons. Let us call them criminal reasons and civil reasons.

Criminal reasons are those that are for the purpose of illegal activity itself: running guns, drugs, kidnapping, extortion, bribery, murder, cartel and gang violence. A law enforcement approach to this type of activity, whether the persons enter legally or illegally is necessary. We want security for that. There is no question about it.

Civil reasons on the other hand are those that are good and healthy for people and society: family reunification, temporary or permanent work, better education, better standard of living, greater economic, cultural and educational opportunities, seeking asylum, refugee status etc.. People with civil reasons may enter either legally or illegally. But they enter for good reasons, are good people and will be beneficial members of any society or community to which they belong.

The purpose of law enforcement and security agencies should be to interdict, prevent, deter, arrest and prosecute those who enter for criminal reasons. This is regardless of the means of entry or legal status in this country.

The purpose of immigration is to vett those who enter for civil reasons and determine who will be permitted to enter, stay and work. To solve our problem it should incentivize entering through a legal port of entry and dis-incentivize entering the country at any other place (i.e. swimming the river or crossing the desert).

While these two systems, law enforcement and immigration, overlap to some extent they are separate and their purposes are different. The great error of the Governor is to confuse the two and use a militarized, law enforcement system to deal with an immigration issue rather than focusing its effort on the law enforcement purpose of dealing with those who enter for criminal reasons. Obviously a state has, and must have, the authority to enforce criminal laws. What it must not do is confuse that with having the authority to prosecute people who are not criminals and who are not entering for criminal reasons. I understand that illegal entry is a crime under Federal law, but it is not really a crime. It is not a crime in the sense that we think of assault, burglary and vandalism as crimes.

Using trespass as a justification to arrest otherwise innocent people simply because they stepped foot on U.S. soil is to invent a crime and enforce under circumstances where it would not be enforced against our own citizens. People trespass on property every day, both in cities and in the country, and they are not arrested for it. Walking across my neighbors lawn or cutting through his pasture is technically a trespass. But hardly anyone is ever arrested for trespass simply for doing so. While volumes of people crossing someone's property is a problem that must be addressed, as discussed below, this is a problem that is best addressed by the immigration system addressing the reasons that person chose to enter this way. Law enforcement is not going to stop people from coming. It is only going to fill up our jails. Every hour an officer spends his time trying to stop migrants and arrest them for trespass is an hour that officer could be using to deal with the real criminals entering our country, most of whom enter legally. We need real law enforcement at the border by real law enforcement officers, not busy work to make the Governor look tough on TV.

As I mentioned, what is needed are incentives and disincentives. We need incentives to encourage authorized entry, and disincentives to discourage unauthorized entry. You can only do that through changes in the immigration laws, systems and processes. We can throw all the soldiers, law enforcement officers, razor wire, barriers and money we want at the border, but history has shown us that no matter how much enforcement you throw at the problem, it has little to no effect on the reasons people are driven to risk everything, including their lives and the lives of their children to come to the United States.

But, our current brand of state officials only want to use the border and its rural people for their own purposes. They have no incentive to solve the problem, as they can use the problem for their own benefit. We make a nice back drop for a press conference, for whatever hogwash they are peddling, or their own political ambitions. The measures taken by the State of Texas do not solve the problem of why people are coming, and where they decide to enter because they were never intended to.

It is time that Democrats address the problem from this angle and talk about it in simple terms. If we don't the next election is just going to be more of the same.

Jon Mark Hogg is a San Angelo lawyer and a founder of The 134 PAC. The views expressed her are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The 134 PAC, its members or volunteers.

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