Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has no plans to pull down a state-run website that allows border ranchers and farmers to document their daily struggles with drug cartels and undocumented immigrants. Instead, he called a news conference today to promote the site and reiterate its necessity.
Launched last week, protectyourtexasborder.com has drawn the ire of some who oppose comments made on the site’s message board, comments calling for armed vigilante groups, land mines and booby traps on farm and ranch lands near or on the border.
But Staples said comments made by a few should not detract from the site’s intent: to show the federal government the “war on drugs has evolved into a drug war against America.”
“I am absolutely opposed to hate language of any kind and we have already taken steps to improve [the site],” he said today at a news conference. Staples said he "hoped and prayed" the comments wouldn't be the public's focus and that instead the "outcry of the crimes against our farmers and ranchers would be elevated."
Since the site’s initial launch last week, Staples' office has added a web page informing users that the department has the right to remove posts that contain hate speech and other derogatory remarks.
U.S. Rep Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, said the site was nothing more than propaganda that portrayed rural Texas like “rural Afghanistan,” and cited statistics indicating border communities in Texas are safer than most others, including Austin.
Asked to respond to that claim, Staples instead pointed to an enhanced photograph of a truck riddled with bullets after coming under attack 26 miles from the South Texas border just last week.
“If we have officials saying it’s safe and that everything is all right, I think you need to say that to the driver of this truck,” he said. “These drug criminals are terrorizing our farmers and ranchers.”
State Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, a former member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, said there is no doubt illegal aliens are coming across the border to do more than perform thankless jobs.
Of the estimated 152,000 inmates in state prisons, he said, 5,000 to 7,000 are illegal aliens that have committed serious crimes.
“I want the public to understand this is a very serious problem,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, defended Washington’s actions and said his party last year injected more funds toward border security than at any other time in history. But the new GOP-controlled U.S. House has gutted those funds by at least $350 million, he said.
Staples said he has no time for “partisan” games.
“No American should stand by and listen to rhetoric and blame-gaming about one person stepping up and doing more than the other,” he said. “We are calling on Democrats and Republicans alike to jointly and in a unifying voice ask for resources.”
Staples has responded to Rodríguez with a letter of his own after the senator implored the commissioner to pull the site. The commissioner says he agrees that any hate speech should be condemned, but asks Rodríguez to join him in his efforts to protect ranchers and farmers.
“I absolutely and wholeheartedly condemn any responses that, as you state in your letter, ‘promote violence and hate,’” Staples writes. “You also state in your letter, ‘allowing the spread of violent messages is simply unacceptable …’ On this you and I agree. Furthermore, I cannot allow — and sincerely hope you would join me in also condemning — the spread of violent attacks on our farmers and ranchers.”
Copies of both letters are attached below.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.