By Kelly Young
State Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, addressed a small group of veterans Tuesday night at the Rusk American Legion post. The four-term congressman answered questions and outlined a few goals for the next session of the legislature. Topics ranged from gun control and the Trans-Texas Corridor to water rights and education, but most of the night’s discussions centered around border security and Texas’ illegal immigration problem.
“In my district, which is Cherokee, Houston, Panola and Rusk counties, we have about 7 percent Hispanic voters and about 33 percent Hispanic kids in our schools. So that should tell you that we have quite a few people in the district who are probably not legal,” Hopson said. “The state of Texas is having to spend a lot of money each year educating these kids, treating illegals when they show up in emergency rooms and incarcerating them when they commit a felony.”
Hopson said he believes teachers being forced to cater to the children of illegal immigrants is putting a strain on the Texas education system.
“Our federal government has told us that when any kid presents himself to our schools, that we have to educate them. So we now are seeing a lot of students entering third or fourth grade who have never been to school at all and are not only illiterate in English, but are also illiterate in Spanish,” Hopson said. “It’s very challenging for our teachers to take in these new students and try to educate them and keep them on grade level.”
According to Hopson, his own feelings on immigration closely mirror those of former president Theodore Roosevelt — that immigrants are more than welcome to come to America if they do so legally and are willing to assimilate into American culture.
“I think we need to find out for sure who these people are. Apart from the millions of Mexicans entering America illegally, we’ve had an estimated 100,000 people from other countries cross the border since 2005,” he said. “This includes countries like Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan — places where Al Qaeda really has a presence. We can’t afford to have people entering the country that we don’t know anything about.”
Hopson said the federal government has failed in its charge to protect our borders.
“We passed a resolution during the last session and sent it to Congress, telling the federal government that if they cannot protect our borders and control who enters our country, then they need to pay the state for all the things that are costing us as taxpayers because the federal government is not stepping up and doing their job,” Hopson said.
The key to ending America’s influx of illegal immigrants is as simple as removing their incentive to come here, Hopson said Thursday night. He reasons that if they don’t have jobs waiting for them across the border, they won’t make the trip.
According to Hopson, during the last few years the state has conducted a number of operations along the border that have been successful in stopping drugs, weapons and illegal money from entering and leaving the country.
Programs since 2005 include Operation Linebacker, Operation Rio Grande, Operation Wrangler and Operation Border Star. Hopson said the efforts have put a major dent in serious crime in the unincorporated areas along the border. Operation Wrangler was a one-week surge in 2007 that Hopson said reduced crime and human smuggling by about 45 percent.
“The current thing we are doing is Operation Border Star, which has more airplanes, more water craft and more boots on the ground patrolling the Texas-Mexico border than we have ever had. The objective of Border Star is to dominate the border,” he said. “We authorized $110 million last May to enhance border security, and with increased personnel on the border, we are making a difference.”
Between January and May of this year, Hopson reports $23 million in illegal cash has been seized by elements of Operation Border Star.
“Our current operation has been very, very successful. I’m not real happy that we had to spend $110 million in Texas money to do it, but apparently our federal government doesn’t care enough to protect us. I think we all need to write our federal representation and let them know that we think their border policy is not good for East Texas, and it’s not good for our country,” Hopson said.
Brian Walker, Hopson’s opponent in the November elections, will hold a similar meeting with the Rusk American Legion in September.