Staples and Generals Call Out Feds on Border Security

Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, holds up copy of recently released independent copy of Texas border security during press conference at Texas Capitol on September 26th, 2011
Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, holds up copy of recently released independent copy of Texas border security during press conference at Texas Capitol on September 26th, 2011

The former head of the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command said Monday that if the United States does not provide more support to Mexico, that country's next presidential administration may have no choice but to make a deal with cartel leaders.

“The situation on the border has gotten worse, it’s going to get worse in the coming years,” said retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a four-star general who also served as President Bill Clinton’s Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “We are facing a Mexican election in which the next administration, if faced with inadequate U.S. support … could come to an agreement with the cartels. It would be the end of the rule of law in Mexico if it took place.”

McCaffrey made the dire assessment during a news conference convened by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who rolled out the results of a four-month study called "Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment."

Staples’ office and the Texas Department of Public Safety commissioned McCaffrey and retired General Robert Scales to ascertain how safe the Texas-Mexico is. The federal government maintains that cartel-related violence in Mexico generally has not spilled over the border into the U.S. and that there are now more boots on the ground patrolling it than ever before.

McCaffrey, who said he was a friend of Mexico and showered praise on its “world class” administration for its fight against organized crime, said his prediction was not an indictment of Mexican officials as corrupt, but instead is based on mounting frustrations within that country and America’s “anemic” assistance to it.

 

“I do think there is increasing dismay in Mexico. It will take 15 years to build a federal police force that works,” he said. “What I would worry about is that the next administration will say ‘Hey, we are going to make a deal with these people. We are going to tell Mexico this isn’t our problem. It’s the Americans’ problem.’ It isn’t. It would be a disaster in Mexico,” he said.

McCaffrey said the $1.3 billion in training, equipment and weaponry provided to Mexico under the 2008 Mérida Initiative is a meager amount when compared with the $10 billion the U.S. spends monthly in Afghanistan.

“I say that not to argue for or against Afghanistan, but to underscore the anemic resources that we have devoted one of our principal allies on the face of the Earth, which is Mexico,” he said.

Staples received heavy criticism this year when his office launched a website, protectyourtexasborder.com, that asked farmers and ranchers on the border to post true stories about the daily threats they encounter. The website’s comments section soon included calls for vigilantism, but was modified to exclude such comments after Staples' office was made aware of them.

Staples said then it wasn’t his intent to promote violence but said he intended to continue to tell Washington it wasn’t doing its job. It was a message he repeated today.

“The sovereignty of America is under attack and it’s happening on Texas soil and Texans are paying the price. Texans demand action. Texans know the problem is real,” Staples, who is expected to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, told reporters. “Texas represents 64 percent of the border between the United States and Mexico yet Texas only has 44 percent of the Border Patrol stationed in Texas.”

Asked whether he was ready to respond to questions about how much his criticisms of federal border security priorities — a common refrain from the state’s GOP officials — had to do with his political ambitions, Staples said: “Bullet holes don’t lie. Dead bodies tell a powerful story and that is what is occurring in Texas. It’s always the right time to do the right thing.”

Still, Staples' position on immigration issues — which he said are separate from border security — may not be in lockstep with the harsh rhetoric of other Republican officials. He suggested a guest-worker program should be considered to ensure a complete and diverse workforce. Hardliners on immigration are adamant that jobs should be offered to unemployed Americans before considering a guest-worker program.

 

“Let’s be very clear: I fully believe securing our border is the first and fundamental step in having a secure America. But I also realize that for 60 years America has relied on guest labor and guest workers,” he said. “We have a failed immigration system that is increasingly becoming more and more of a problem.”

The commissioner did differ with McCaffrey on the issue of gun control and whether the bulk sale of arms should be reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Obama administration began requiring that firearms dealers report the sale of two or more long rifles to the same person within a five-day period in an effort to stamp out the flow of arms in to Mexico.

“Texans defend themselves and I don’t think we need to confuse gun control with border security,” he said. “We need to keep our eyes on the target and that is that transnational criminal organizations are chasing people off their lands in Texas, not in Mexico. This is occurring here.”

McCaffrey said it was essential to report multiple weapons sales, especially if it dealt with AK-47s and similar weapons. 

“Half of us in the country are armed. Five percent of us are nut jobs, there is a tremendous flow of weapons south of the United States in to Mexico,” he said. “I say that as someone with a concealed gun permit. And I’ve got enough ammunition and guns in my place that if the place ever caught in fire it’d be cooking off for three days. Of course we ought to require people to report the purchase of an AK-47, particularly is if it is multiple buyers.”

But McCaffrey cautioned that the flow of weapons and guns is a not what causes violence, only what fuels it.

“The other side of that is, let me make this explicit, we have a 5,000 mile border with Canada and Canadians aren’t slaughtering each other with AK-47s,” he said.  “Our guns and money aren’t causing this but they are facilitating it.”

The numbers

The claims about a porous and violent border are likely to enrage Democratic leaders who say their cities are the safest in the country. During a Texas Tribune Festival panel discussion on Sunday about border security, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, said statistics reflect his district is the safest in the country.

The FBI Uniform Crime Report for El Paso, with an estimated population of 625,000, revealed just five homicides in 2010. Across the border in Ciudad Juárez, the number of homicides exceeded 3,000. 

He also said the cartels aren't "stupid” and that they know that U.S. authorities would come down on them with full force if they unleashed violence in Texas similar to what occurs in Mexico.

But Texas DPS director Steven McCraw, also an El Paso native, told the Tribune that numbers don’t tell the entire story. Crimes usually associated with organized crime don’t get reported as index crimes.

“Trying to depend on index crimes alone to define a threat, you are always going to be a year or two years or maybe three years behind,” he said. “When you look at index crimes, you are dealing with murders, sexual assaults, car thefts. But you miss the key elements of organized crime — drug trafficking, human trafficking — you miss extortions, and you miss kidnappings.”

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.