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The border crisis is not just at the border

Penned op-ed in the Washington Examiner

The border crisis is not just at the border. In Southern California’s high desert, there are thousands of large-scale illegal marijuana grows run by transnational criminal organizations and worked by indentured servants and illegal immigrants.

The border crisis is not just at the border.

In Southern California’s high desert, there are thousands of large-scale illegal marijuana grows run by transnational criminal organizations and worked by indentured servants and illegal immigrants. These grows are bad for the environment, wasting natural resources, not regulated or taxed, funneling money to foreign nations, and a threat to citizens' livelihoods.

Since I was elected to represent California’s 25th District, I have heard horror stories from residents in the Antelope Valley, Acton, and Agua Dulce. People are scared for their lives as they are threatened by these illegal grow owners and workers.

I recently took a helicopter flight above California’s Antelope Valley. As far as the eye could see, there were patches of white from the countless plastic sheets covering the nurseries. We flew for just under an hour and only viewed a small portion of the grows. If you looked closely, you could see a fortress built around each nursery — tall dirt walls that ensured any car driving by would not see what was behind those walls. Each had a single point of entry guarded by an RV and, in some cases, armed personnel.

It reminded me of when you take off in an airplane for the first time and think to yourself, "I never realized so many people had swimming pools." I never fully appreciated the sheer volume of how many large-scale illegal marijuana grows are in the beautiful high desert. There are literally thousands.

Eradicating the vast number of illegal marijuana grows in California is not about cracking down on legal marijuana; in fact, it is quite the opposite. In California, a state where marijuana is legal, these illegal grows are bad for business for the legal marijuana growers. These illegal operations grow a product at zero cost with free labor, free water, and, in many cases, free land. How can legal operations compete with that? Legal marijuana growers in California should be up in arms.

The U.S.’s open border is the primary dynamic fueling these grows.

Lack of border security is a threat. But it is also a threat to illegal immigrants who are so eager to come to America that they are tricked into being trafficked across the border and end up in a vicious system they can’t escape. The transnational criminal organizations are also taking advantage of immigrants who have overstayed their visas. Such is the case for the estimated 90% to 95% of illegal immigrants working the illegal marijuana grows in Southern California. These illegal immigrants did not intend to become partners in crime to transnational criminal organizations, but they are now stuck in a system we created by failing to secure our border.

We can mitigate this violation against humanity if we secure our borders.

One of the most disturbing examples of intimidation I’ve heard about was toward an older resident who lives alone and worked for the local water agency. When he denied water services to the illegal grows, his home was broken into. Things were lit on fire, and important papers were stuffed in his toilet. These are clear intimidation tactics.

It breaks my heart to hear and see what my constituents in the Antelope Valley face. Let me be clear: Our local law enforcement is doing everything it can to combat this, and I am grateful for police officers' hard work. But they are woefully underfunded and unsupported. With a variety of other demands, they only have a few law enforcement officers handling the illegal grows in the Antelope Valley. That is not going to cut it.

Currently, we have a presidential administration that fails to address the crisis at the border, a state that fails to enforce laws, and a reckless call by the radical Left to defund the police — a recipe for disaster. The lack of manpower paired with open borders allowing for the transnational criminal organization leaders to expand their workforce through human trafficking is only causing the illegal activity in Southern California to grow and more people to suffer.

Combating these grows requires an all-hands-on-deck approach from the government: We need county, city, state, and federal entities to do their part. This includes ensuring local law enforcement is involved and is receiving the necessary funding and support.

In Congress, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am working to ensure that we can secure proper funding for our law enforcement. I am also pushing the Department of Justice to remove the nonsensical $19,000 overtime cap placed on individual law enforcement officers, preventing local law enforcement from being able to put in the necessary time to eradicate these grows.

We need to invest in our law enforcement and secure our borders. And we need to provide the local sheriffs’ departments with the resources to eradicate this problem. We must address the crisis at hand, not just at our border but across our great nation.

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