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The Challenge of Border Life is a Foreign Concept for Most Americans

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

A few days ago, I learned where Mexican drug cartel members send their kids to school and how much it costs to fix a fence torn apart by drug smugglers and migrants – in Texas.

As a subject matter expert on border security and Mexico’s drug war, I’m often asked to speak to different organizations about my perspective on those issues. In early October 2016, I found myself in a very small town in rural Texas, about an hour’s drive south of San Antonio, doing just that. What I love the most about these speaking engagements in South Texas and southern Arizona is that I often learn as much as I teach—simply because no book or written lesson trumps the completely surreal experience of living on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Life Near the Border

For two years, I lived in Tucson, Ariz., about 80 miles north of Mexico. I spent a lot of time along the border conducting research for my second book, attending conferences, and just doing business. I always have a hard time explaining to people who live in non-border states how odd it is to just be driving along a rather isolated state road, wondering if you’re going to see any immigrants running from the Border Patrol or needing help. If you have the misfortune of needing to drive these rural border roads at night, you have to worry about crossing paths with armed drug smugglers.

However, if you live and work daily in this environment, like many of the attendees at my South Texas function this past week, the experience is multiplied—and completely foreign to probably 95 percent of Americans. As I have many times before, I heard stories from ranchers and property owners who have spent upwards of six figures to repair fences and damage caused by smugglers and immigrants trespassing on their land; stories of break-ins and stolen property; stories of the dead bodies of immigrants found in cattle grazing areas. These sorts of incidents have been occurring for many years, and sadly are nothing new. But the story that threw me for a loop, which is difficult to do considering I’ve been working in this field for over a decade, involved not drugs or desert crossings…but schools.

Texan Parents Fear Sending Children to Certain Schools

The group I was speaking to was comprised of upper-class Texans, and the women in the group often referred to the private schools and expensive academies their children had attended, or where their grandchildren were currently attending. I was surprised when one group member told us that she knew of a family that was driving 120 miles round-trip every day to ensure the family’s daughter attended a public school in South Texas. Confident I had heard her incorrectly, I asked if there were no good private schools where the girl lived. That was when she explained something unthinkable to most American parents. Mexican drug cartel members enrolled their children in the Texas private schools nearby. Parents are afraid of sending their children to the same schools, unsure of how they would do something as simple as decline an invitation to a birthday party for a cartel member’s child. The private schools, which are often operating on very tight budgets, have a hard time declining the generous donations from cartel families that less-than-gently encourage the schools to allow the enrollment of their children.

[Also by Sylvia: VIDEO: Trump, Immigration and the US-Mexico Wall]

These kinds of stories are all-too-common along the U.S.-Mexico border, but many times either go unreported at the national level, or meet with an apathetic response from American readers whose daily lives are completely unaffected by Mexico’s drug war. The simple fact that foreign nationals—some of them violent criminals—are trespassing across and damaging private property on U.S. soil, as well as influencing decisions about how our children in border areas can be safely educated, is cause for much greater concern about the drug war’s influence on our way of life.

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