Rather than build a 700-mile long fence along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants out, a Texas ranch owner may have come up with another idea; breed herds of emus to protect the border.

In the latest issue of Texas Monthly, South Texas rancher Tonnyre Thomas Joe talks about the impact of heightened border security on her family’s ranch 65 miles north of the Mexican border. Recently a frightened and injured illegal immigrant told Border Patrol of being attached by a “un pollo gigante.” The rancher is not sure, but suspects the illegal was attacked by one of the emus they keep on the ranch to protect calves from coyotes.

No, I am not serious about breeding emus to keep illegal immigrants out. This was only an admittedly humorous part of the article Tonnyre wrote about the impact heightened border security has had on her family’s ranch.

Being so close to the border and major highways leading north from the border, illegal immigrants crossing her family ranch have been part of their lives for decades. Until recently, it has been little more than nuisance problems with trash and an occasional water hydrant left on.

With heightened border security, however, has come a dangerous criminal element, specifically coyotes who charge illegal immigrants $1,500 to cross into the U.S.

An Associated Press article about recent surveys of illegals caught and deported said about half those caught had hired a smuggler to get them into the U.S. The percentage may be even higher because people may hesitate to admit they hired someone to commit a crime. In 2004, one in three hired a smuggler and just one in six in 2000.

The reason is most illegal immigrants believe using a smuggler lessens their chance of getting caught.

Trafficking in illegal immigrants has become big business. Typically at least single workers cross the border several times a year to visit their families in Mexico.

The South Texas rancher is more introspective than most of those who e-mail me about my comments on immigration reform:

“I’m not qualified to post a solution, nor am I so ignorant as to think there’s a simple one,” she writes. She continues with the thoughts of many who live with the immigration dilemma on a daily basis; “we need new legal channels for those who want to work and positively contribute to our society.”

She points out that illegal immigrants are now willing to pay $1,500 to be smuggled into the U.S. Why not ask them to pay the money to get documented as guest workers?

Makes sense.

She adds that opening a legal pathway for workers to work where they are needed in the U.S. would allow the Border Patrol to focus on the drug traffickers, people smugglers and other negative elements that cross daily.

You can breed emus, build a 700-mile fence or hire and equip thousands of new Border Patrolmen, and still illegal immigrants will find ways to cross the U.S/Mexico border to take the jobs Americans do not want.

It should not be made necessarily easier, but at least a guest worker program take the criminal element out of it. At the same time, the U.S. would be documenting most who are crossing the border.

email: hcline@farmpress.com