WILMINGTON – Last week Congressman David Rouzer traveled to the Texas-Mexico border. The trip, he said, changed the way he saw the issue of border security and immigration.
Congressman Rouzer was part of a caucus of Republicans inspecting border security measures along a 160-mile route from McAllen to Laredo. The group, which included Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, traveled the route by air, on foot and on horseback, according to Rouzer.
Immediately, the trip impressed on the group how difficult the construction of a wall across the border would be.
“Number one, the border there, on the United States side of the Rio Grande, is privately owned,” Rouzer said. “You’d have to go in there and (confiscate) that land using eminent domain. And that creates a set of legal issues all by itself, and that would be tied up in court for some time, because many of those landowners don’t want a wall.”
Rouzer said he remains committed to building a wall on the border, “where it makes sense.”
The congressman said he now favors a combination of a wall, fencing and increased spending on border security manpower and technology.
“Politically we have to do everything we can to secure the border and make strong improvement on that front,” he said. “In some areas, a wall makes perfect sense, in other areas you need advanced technology, drones. It’s going to take an incredible amount of money and investment – we need to do that to show the American people that we’re serious about that.”
While, after his trip, Rouzer deviated only slightly from President Donald Trump’s wall-rhetoric, his ideas about the human elements of border security seemed to have been affected.
While talking about the plight of immigrants, many of whom pay human smugglers or “coyotes” to facilitate passage across the border, Rouzer said his “eyes were opened,” and added that “actually going there is like going from black and white television to 3D.”
Rouzer described talking to ranchers who find the bodies of people on the U.S. side of the border.
“One rancher told me he’s found 150 dead bodies on his land over the last 10 years, basically one a month,” Rouzer said. “He’ll be out hunting with his grandson and find a corpse. It’s a nightmare. The human element is very striking.”
Spending time with both southern Texas residents and border security officials gave Rouzer and his group an alternative to what Rouzer called the “stereotype image” of illegal border crossing.
“Eighty percent of these people were smuggled by coyotes, paying $4,000-$6,000 a piece, from countries in Latin and South America,” he said. “I think we have the tendency to think these people that are crossing the border … a tendency to think that once they get across, they’re sitting in a nice hotel, having dinner at the local McDonalds, when [in] fact they’re trying to chart their way through the dessert after they’ve been left there by a smuggler. They’ve been totally and completely misled.
“And those coyotes, they treat those individuals just like they’re cattle, or any other commodity, they have no regard for their life whatsoever,” he said. “If one member that they’re bringing through is struggling, has a health issue, or twisted an ankle, its not uncommon for [the coyotes] to leave them behind.”
Asked if the government owed anything to, or could do anything for, the victims of the deception and frequent extortion of human traffickers, Rouzer pointed to a need to re-conceptualize the dynamics of border-crossing.
“So I think there needs to be more of an effort to bifurcate the hard-core criminal elements from those who are coming from central American countries just trying to find a better way of life,” he said. “As with any issue that’s important to fix in this country there’s complications and there is more than one aspect to it, for sure.”
In terms of that criminal element – those infamously named the “bad hombres” by President Donald Trump – Rouzer suggested putting American political pressure on the Latin and South American countries from which immigrants are fleeing from entrenched poverty and socio-political violence.
“These are desolate and desperate countries,” Rouzer said. “People would not be coming here from there in such numbers if they did not have it so bad at home. We need to put serious pressure on those countries, in terms of the drug cartels and violence, and get them to clean up their acts.”
Rouzer also suggested that demand for narcotics inside the United States was a fundamental part of cartel power, which in turn has led to social and political strife in countries pinned under the de facto control of cartels.
“There wouldn’t be any drugs coming across the border if there was no demand for them,” said Rouzer. “We need to have a war on drugs again in American just like Nancy Reagan did in the 1980s with the ‘Say No to Drugs’ campaign.”
While Rouzer was clear that, he said amnesty for illegal immigrants was unacceptable – in part because he believed it would lead to increased fatalities at the border. He also said that, once the border was secure, he believed it would be time to “address the humanitarian aspects of the issue” of immigration.