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Why Protecting The Texas-Mexico Border Is So Complicated

Todd Wiseman / The Texas Tribune
Ruperto Escobar with a Border Patrol agent on his ranch in Starr County in South Texas. His ancestors settled this area after getting a Spanish land grant in 1767.

Reporters at the Texas Tribune are exploring border security and immigration -- two topics that affect nearly every part of Texas.  Jay Root is a reporter with the Texas Tribune and has reported several stories in the project, called Bordering on Insecurity.

  Interview Highlights: Jay Root ... 

... on why Border Patrol doesn't use its boats all the time: "It was an interesting discovery. We went on a ride along with the Border Patrol in March, and to their credit, to the credit of the people, the men and women that took us out and took care of us while we were out there, they wanted us to see what they see. They kept saying over and over: 'When these boats come out of the water, our boats, the Border Patrol boats come out of the water, that's when you'll see people crossing, that's when the rafts start, that's when you see people running up and down the bank and trying to get across.' Finally, my colleague Julian Aguilar asked the Border Patrol spokesman: 'If the boats are so effective, why do you take them out of the water?' And that led to a report. ... We identified it as a significant lapse, something that would really make a difference if you were able to keep the boats out there."

... on the conflict border farmer Ruperto Escobar faces"He went into great detail about some of the issues that have happened on his property, including his men being held up at gunpoint. He pumps water from the Rio Grande and irrigates his crops with it, and he told us about a confrontation down by his pump. His men went down to shut the pump off because they have a permit that had to shut it off at 10 p.m. and they were confronted by ... what they suspect were armed drug traffickers. ... I'm not sure exactly what they were trafficking, but they told Ruperto's men to get lost and that this was their property tonight. Ruperto told them 'You know, don't worry about the pump, just let it go.' And then water was everywhere the next morning but everybody was safe."

Watch Escobar's story

... on whether Texas' $800 million efforts will change things on the border: "This is the $64,000 question. I'd have to say that the verdict is out on that, at least from what we've seen. I can say that there is a heavy, heavy, heavy Department of Public Safety presence in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. That's where so much of the activity is happening. It's much closer for them. For Central Americans, that's who is really coming here right now in large numbers. The DPS presence is huge, and we did get anecdotal evidence from Border Patrol officers that it is a force multiplayer. It helps. Some of the locals complain about it because they're giving out tickets like candy. I think we need more data. I think we need more reporting on this and it's so big, such a huge area to cover -- we're talking about 250 new agents permanently down there -- so I think we're going to have to wait and see on that."

Learn more

Explore the Bordering On Insecurity series here.

Jay Root is a reporter with the Texas Tribune.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.