Ranchers in Texas have rejected a government offer to cover property damage caused by illegal immigration and drug smuggling. They fear the aid will come with conditions and won’t address the underlying issue at the border.
Efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compensate landowners for losses suffered from trespassers crossing the border and traveling into Texas have been met with skepticism. They currently call for President Joe Biden to secure the border with a much better plan, Gazette reported.
Through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program, farmers and ranchers may now claim reimbursements for more than two dozen types of costs incurred, including fence repairs, livestock losses, irrigation, and crop planting, until July 5. Neither the amount of funding available for the new program nor the number of applicants has been disclosed.
It appears that some of the program’s beneficiaries don’t seem to be buying into the program.
“It looks good on paper. It looks good in the media,” said John Paul Schuster, a rancher. “But in reality, it’s not servicing us right now.”
This week, six residents in Kinney and Val Verde counties talked with the Washington Examiner about their apprehensions about the program. Five of the six do not plan to apply for reimbursement for either the amount of work it will require, the lack of trust Washington has in them, or the fact that they have already paid for repairs and are therefore not eligible for reimbursement.
There is a 25-mile gap between the southern boundary of John Paul Schuster and Donna Schuster’s ranch and the border, but the ranch’s land has become a hotspot for illegal immigrants who have crossed the border and are trying to evade law enforcement. The Schuster family has suffered at paying for countless fencing repairs, animals escaping or dying, and long-term water loss due to the nonstop trespassing.
Over the past 14 months, Donna Schuster said, they have lost their peace of mind because the border has fallen out of control. More illegal immigrants were stopped by law enforcement in Del Rio in January than anywhere else on the border — a first record in the 98-year history of the Border Patrol. Although many families surrender to Border Patrol, many adults escape across private property to avoid getting caught.
Trespassers are almost all men, and some dress in camouflage to avoid detection.
Schusters are the president and vice president of the Kinney County branch of the Texas Farm Bureau. The Schusters were initially optimistic when they learned last week that the USDA was planning to reimburse landowners in 33 Texas counties for the losses sustained during the border crisis because this meant they would get reimbursed for the thousands of dollars they had spent on repairs from their pockets.
While the program started this month, Texas residents can still claim damages prior to February, according to NRCS spokeswoman Dee Ann Littlefield.
However, the Schusters’ hopes quickly faded after they realized they wouldn’t qualify for reimbursement — as they had repaired their fence every time it got damaged and — since the program only reimburses damages that are not repaired.
Another Landowner at Distress
Page Day owns 20,000 acres outside of Del Rio where he hosts guided hunts on his 20,000 acres. He estimated he had spent up to $60,000 on repairs this past year. Of recent, on his property, he has found five holes cut in fences since Sunday, requesting urgent repairs.
Meanwhile, the USDA has indicated it reimbursement is not a loan, so Day plans to apply for reimbursement, but is afraid that the money will be taxed or it will be considered a loan, not free money. He said the initiative’s details were not fully explained, making him less certain about applying.
“I don’t have high hopes we’re going to get money or that it’s going to work because of the way they’ve worded it,” he said, adding that giving money directly to landowners doesn’t solve the problem.
“I almost want to say it’s a political stunt by the government to say, ‘Look, we are helping the ranchers.'”
Pain over Pain
Meanwhile, Val Verde County’s Billy Whaley said it’s more complicated than what Day had described. According to Whaley, Trespassers leave open gates, which lead to cattle escaping, and when they are found, they must be quarantined for fear of tick fever, which causes fever in cattle and can lead to death.
“It’s probably going to be more trouble than it’s worth [to apply] because nothing is simple with the government. If I have to spend four or five hours filling out stuff and sending it in then have somebody come look at it, by the time they do that, we’ve already fixed another fence,” Whaley explained.
Couple in Worrisome
Byron Hodge and Ann Hodge own a multigenerational ranch in Del Rio. Ann was worried that accepting the money would come with a catch.
“We don’t want anything from the government. There’s going to be strings attached,” Hodge explained.
“You never know when they’re going to try and say they might need that money back now and have the power to take it away from us.”
Wild Land Distress
After a new net wire fence was installed in December 2020, the Schusters are constantly having to repair it due to trespassers climbing and cutting it. Several weeks ago, a smuggler drove a truck through the fence and into their pasture, continuing to the next pasture.
A second trespasser punched a hole in the couple’s water tank with a rock and drained the 10,000 gallons of water intended for feeding the cattle for six weeks. As they use a solar pump, they can’t recoup the water quickly, so they have to move the cattle to another pasture and buy a new tank.
The Schusters have lost some of their cattle due to the garbage left behind by trespassers, costing them thousands of dollars per animal.
“Those cattle eat it, and because of their digestive system and the way it’s set up, they end up getting what we call hardware disease. They can’t process their diet anymore, so they get skinny and eventually die,” Schuster explained.
“We found a dead cow the other day that I haven’t calved.”
The cost of losing a middle-aged cow is approximately $6,000, and the cost of losing a bull is approximately $3,000. Because heifers will breed a calf every year for up to 15 years, they are worth more. Also, one calf is worth $700.
According to John Paul Schuster, it is impossible to pay for the lost safety and comfort. According to the Washington Examiner, Schuster told the paper that eight men were being pursued on his property late Wednesday evening.
“DPS called me and said foot chase headed towards your house. So we turned off all the TV and one light wife had on in bedroom. She went to bed — I am sitting still in recliner with dog and pistol by my side,” he explained.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez asked landowners to notify him immediately of any damage, break-in, or run-in, so the county can use the incident data at the end of the year to hire more deputies.