Drug running and human smuggling by Mexican cartels have become tragically commonplace for many Texas communities. Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham says Texans are deeply frustrated with the situation at their southern border, a situation she describes as “frightening.”
There is a “tremendous loss of life with the increase in crime” at the southern border, Buckingham says, adding, “We’re going to do everything we possibly can, but unfortunately it is sort of trying to trap water in a sieve. When the federal government [is] … tying the hands of our Border Patrol agents … it’s an uphill battle, but we’re going to continue to fight every day.”
Buckingham, who took office Jan. 10 after being elected in November, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss how locals in Texas view the illegal-immigration crisis and what the Texas General Land Office is doing to secure the southern border.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: We are joined today by Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham. Commissioner, welcome to the show.
Commissioner Dawn Buckingham: Hey, it’s great to be on with you-all today. Thanks so much for having me.
Allen: Oh, this is going to be fun. This is a real pleasure. I know that you, in your capacity as commissioner and your office, the Texas General Land Office, you-all touch so many different aspects of things within the state of Texas. For those that aren’t familiar with what a land commissioner does, can you just explain that?
Buckingham: Absolutely. I tell everybody that the General Land Office is the office that touches the lives of Texans every day and they have no idea that we even exist. So we actually predate the governor when we were transitioning from a sovereign nation to a state. Our forefathers, we had to figure out who owned what because we had overlapping land grants and with the various flags we had lived under. And so we became the keepers of maps, the guardians of Texas history, and the steward to what is now 13 million acres, which today is incredibly important.
We are basically the reason why Texas is leading the nation and the world in energy production, in such a big part of keeping our energy independence, which is so incredibly important because of course we have minerals on a whole lot of those 13 million acres.
We’re the tip of the spear for defending our history, our border, and oil and gas against what the Left is trying to do. We also fund education. We fund our state veterans programs. We do all the big [Department of Housing and Urban Development]-related disaster recovery in the state, and we do everything coastal restoration. So it’s a really big job that, you’re right, we have our fingers in every aspect of the state.
Allen: You-all are busy. Well, what comes, I know, with watching over and working to preserve all of that land and touching aspects of that, of course, in what’s happening right now along our southern border. You-all are directly affected by that, and I know you’re dealing with aspects of the border crisis. So how has the crisis at the southern border affected Texas land and your ability to do your job well?
Buckingham: Well, the General Land Office actually built the first section of the wall many, many years ago. We recognized how important complete operational control is of our border. We had a flood control levee project that just happened to get a big fence on it. So where there’s a will, there’s a way.
But I tell you what, this Biden border blunder is completely unacceptable. The number of trafficked youth that we’re seeing, the amount of deadly fentanyl that’s coming across our border. Basically, I’ve seen estimates that we have higher levels of slavery today than we have at any other time around the world, because these folks come in and then they’re obligated to the people who bring them across. And it’s just unconscionable what is happening to these folks. And it’s [President Joe] Biden’s border policies that are driving that.
Allen: And since you do interact with so many different Texans, what are people in your state saying about this? How are they affected, whether they’re entrepreneurs or they’re in a profession like teaching, or maybe they’re veterans? What are they saying about the situation at the border and how it’s affecting them and their families?
Buckingham: Folks are deeply frustrated. Resources are stretched so thin. If you look at our border communities—and they are lovely communities along the border, I always like to emphasize that, how wonderful those communities are. But when you look at the strain that this puts on the medical supplies, on our schools—you go to the stores, it wasn’t too long ago, you couldn’t even find any baby formula.
We had some friends who live along the border who were up visiting us at our ranch and I called them on the way leaving the ranch and just said, “Hey, thanks for coming. And boy, it sounds like you-all are in the store somewhere.” And they said, “Heck yeah, we stopped at a Tractor Supply,” because you can’t find a weed eater, you can’t find anything down on the border, because all the resources are just being taken to try and deal with this massive humanity coming across.
And so they are deeply frustrated and they really feel like the Biden administration doesn’t care about them. They feel like their policies are hurting their communities and they are very, very frustrated.
Allen: Now, we recently saw that the Biden administration proposed a new asylum rule. And what this says is that migrants who cross through another country to get to America and who do not enter the country legally, that they will not be eligible to claim asylum.
So if this new rule goes into effect, essentially, migrants would have three options. They could apply for citizenship legally. Of course, they could claim asylum in another country that they enter that’s maybe close to their home country, or they could use an app to apply for asylum from their home country and apply for asylum in America.
This policy is quite similar to a policy that we had under former President Donald Trump. But explain your thoughts on this. Do you think that this would help to really stop this constant flood of illegal migrants crossing the border?
Buckingham: I think it’s ironic that the Biden administration is now instituting policies that basically Trump had, that they were so critical of for so long. And it just shows their ineptness, unable to deal with this problem, and the role that their failed policies have played in this massive humanity coming across.
So we saw under Trump, basically, I think was more termed to “[Remain] in Mexico,” but it’s very similar policy and it did help to curb the illegal immigration that was coming across.
But again, I just really want to emphasize, the people who benefit financially from these policies, from the Biden administration are the cartels and the most violent gangs in Texas. These are the folks who are getting the money from the people that are crossing, and then benefiting from their forced labor, whether it’s human trafficking, whether it’s workforce labor, whether it’s the drugs that they’re going to carry for them. And we just need to be doing everything we possibly can to be stopping this atrocity and keeping our community safe.
Allen: We’re hearing so many tragedies as it relates to really what’s happening with the cartels and the influence of the cartels. Now, what role are the cartels playing on the U.S. side of the border? Because we know that, for all intents and purposes, the cartels have operational control of the Mexican side of the border. But what about the U.S. side?
Buckingham: Well, what I’m hearing is that a lot of the cartel members actually live in Texas, have taken over some of the small towns, and they just commute back and forth, but they feel like it’s safer to sleep at night in Texas with our rule of law.
And so, again, it’s amazing when you go down to the border because when you get on our side of the river, there’s just piles and piles and piles of wristbands and each wristband is tied to a cartel. What I hear is the people crossing get a certain number of attempts, and then they have to pay again. And then as soon as they successfully get across, they rip that wristband off and just leave it there as trash.
And so there is no doubt that the cartels are directly tied, whether they’re doing it themselves, bringing the people from the border up and into the state and the rest of the country, or if they’re just partnering with some of our most violent gangs that are then transporting all the people and the drugs up. So it is a direct communication and it is just really frightening and, honestly, horrible that, again, that these Biden policies are driving this and that this increase in slavery, and the increase in deadly fentanyl, and the increase in the human trafficking is just reaching unprecedented levels.
Allen: I know that you in your office and Gov. [Greg] Abbott through [Operation] Lone Star that you-all have been really trying to tackle this head-on. Talk a little bit about how you-all are addressing the issues and even though maybe you’re not feeling the support that you’d like to be feeling from the Biden administration, how you-all are taking action to try and secure the southern border in Texas?
Buckingham: Absolutely. The federal government is supposed to be the one that’s controlling our borders. And it’s ironic that when it comes to Ukraine, they think Ukraine needs a border, but they don’t think Texas needs a border.
But Texas, where the federal government has continued to fail, Texas has continued to step in. We have been spending billions of dollars a year on border security. We have increased local police presence as well as our state police and state military. We have created offenses so that when these folks do get arrested for the crimes that they commit, they get a record.
What we’re seeing is, unfortunately, a big revolving door, especially with a lot of the activist, liberal judges that we see, where people allegedly have committed many rapes or murders, they’re let out on bonds without really any bond, and then they rape and they murder again.
And so we’re seeing a tremendous loss of life with the increase in crime and we’re just not going to stand for it. We’re going to do everything we possibly can, but unfortunately, it is sort of trying to trap water in a sieve. When the federal government continues to be just a sieve with water and really tying the hands of our Border Patrol agents and their policies that support this mass immigration across our border, it’s an uphill battle. But we’re going to continue to fight every day in our Department of Public Safety, our local law enforcement, they’re in this fight with us.
Allen: I want to take a few minutes and talk about the energy issue because that is something that, as you mentioned, your office is on the forefront end, and with Texas being such an important state for energy and energy resources in America. Share if you would a little bit about the priorities that you-all are working on right now and how the work that you-all are doing can help to make America more energy-independent.
Buckingham: Energy independence is incredibly important. We saw last winter where tankers of Texas liquified natural gas that had actually already gone through the Panama Canal had to turn back around and go to Germany because those Green New Deal policies were leaving people freezing in their homes in the winter. So energy independence is incredibly important.
There’s going to be a mass of new technology coming up. All the hydrogen technology is very exciting, but in order to be independent and resilient, you have to be able to produce your own energy. And it’s part of the problem and part of why Ukraine stays so vulnerable to the overtures and war on behalf of the Russians. And so we’re going to continue to support oil and gas. We’re going to continue to look at new technologies. With roughly 1,100 people a day that move to this state, our energy demands are going through the roof.
It’s a little funny, in California, they’re telling you you can’t plug in your electric car to charge because all their policies are actually driving increased energy use that create issues with their grid as well.
But I think between new technologies and being sure that we continue to support oil and gas, we look at everything new on the horizon and we utilize some of the more base generating, get more liquified natural gas going into our grid. I think Texas is well positioned to continue to lead the nation and, honestly, the world in energy production.
Allen: Well, and you mentioned the boom in Texas. So many people are moving to Texas and choosing to relocate there because they like your policies, the warmer weather, lots of things to about the state of Texas. How is the state handling that increase in population?
Buckingham: Well, infrastructure continues to be a big challenge when you have that many people moving all of the time. So we’re continually looking at our roads, our internet access. Honestly, water is going to be one of the biggest fights … we’re going to have moving into the future. We’re starting to really look at desalinization plants off the coast to address our water needs as more and more people move here. So it offers a challenge, but it’s a good challenge to have.
I will say, people come here and then they tend to vote where they were from. And so, we have to keep reminding them that there is a reason that they came to Texas, there is a reason that we are leading the economy.
I heard the other day that we’re actually the eighth-largest economy in the world, which, ironically, puts us as a bigger economy as a single entity than Russia. And so, we’re going to continue to just drive that engine. But it is limited government, it is business-friendly, it is low-tax environment that keeps Texas growing so well. And we’re loud and proud about what a great state we are and we’re going to continue doing those things.
Allen: I want to take the last few minutes we have here to talk about an issue that I know is very important to you and that is caring for our veterans. How is Texas really leading the way in supporting veterans?
Buckingham: Texas has an enormous amount of programs that the state runs independent of what the feds run for our veterans. And I’m very blessed, in the General Land Office, we have the Veterans Land Board. So if you’re a veteran and you want a low interest rate to either buy a house, buy land, or renovate a house, we have a low interest rate loan for you. We run several beautiful veterans nursing homes and really several lovely veteran cemeteries as well.
So we are honored to be able to provide these resources for our veteran community. I’m very clear that we are the land of the free because of the brave, and we need to do everything we can possibly do to help our veterans.
Allen: Thank you so much, Commissioner Dawn Buckingham. We just really appreciate your time today.
Buckingham: Yes. Well, I appreciate yours. Thanks so much for having me on and will look forward to talking with you again soon.
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