The current debate over border security has largely focused on humanitarian issues like drug and human trafficking, but there are economic concerns that landowners said they experience firsthand.
The Guerra family has been a staple in the Rio Grande Valley for more than a century, but now their cattle pens sit empty.
“As far as the pens go, you know, they’re empty because I’ve got no cattle,” Richard Guerra said. “And I’ve got no cattle because I’m afraid of being quarantined again for fever ticks.”
Border Patrol agents said Mexican cartels just miles away have destroyed ranches in the city of Miguel Aleman, and the low water levels of the Rio Grande River make for easy access into the U.S. for both people and loose livestock.
With no physical barrier, animals infected with fever ticks are crossing the border and winding up on Texas ranches.
Infected cattle can be treated for fever ticks, but it is an extremely expensive process. Additionally, fever ticks live within the skin of livestock, and infected animals show no obvious symptoms.
South Texas cattle ranchers are subject to frequent inspections by the United States Department of Agriculture, and the discovery of even one fever tick leads to an automatic 9-month quarantine.
“It is just too costly for us to continue to try to run cattle and be subjected to quarantines, in spite of us following the protocols,” Jody Guerra said.
His father, Richard Guerra, said his property is his livelihood. Three years without cattle on the ranch has taken a large toll on business.
“You know, I’ve got 9,000 acres and they’re vacant. You know what that does? It makes me land poor,” Guerra said.
The father-son landowner duo said these pests are sucking the life out of the entire cattle industry south of San Antonio.
“The mere fact that cattle are coming from South Texas scares people off from purchasing or wanting cattle to be moved north,” Jody Guerra said.
To make ends meet, the Guerra family has started leasing out their property for hunting as an alternative, but they said many people are apprehensive about visiting because of safety concerns regarding dangerous cartel activity just across the river.
Both men added they feel some sort of physical barrier would greatly reduce the number of infected animals that come across the border and into Texas.