WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering sending federal veterinarians in Texas across the border into Mexico to inspect cattle, a practice that ended years ago over safety fears.
Government workers have come out against the plan, confounded as to why they would be required to work in a Mexican state under a travel warning by the State Department because of carjackings and robberies.
The USDA conducted a security assessment on the Mexican installation Friday, but have not made a final decision on whether to send veterinarians from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, to work there.
The facility is located near the Colombia Solidarity Bridge, a rural international crossing near Laredo, Texas, that connects to the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.
According to its most recent travel warning, the State Department urges U.S. citizens to “defer non-essential travel” to the Nuevo Leon, except for the major hub of Monterrey, which itself carries other warnings.
The closest major city to the facility is Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a place known for the drug cartel violence that has been recorded there.
A lawyer for the government veterinarians along the border said the federal workers are unwilling to work there because of fears of being kidnapped or killed.
“Nobody is holding a gun to their head … yet,” said Bill Hughes who represents the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, which opposes the plan. “But USDA officials have told them in no uncertain terms that when they’re assigned there they better go or there are going be serious consequences to their careers, such as losing their jobs.”
In response to Hughes’ claims, the USDA said it is not forcing employees into the assignment and that they will not send federal workers into an area not considered safe by the State Department.
“We are committed to making sure our employees fully understand the risks and are properly prepared to do their jobs,” the USDA said in a statement to CNN. “APHIS and the U.S. Department of State are currently conducting a security assessment of a new inspection facility, and once the site assessment is complete, we will determine our next steps.”
Until March 2010, cattle inspections were routinely done in Mexico, but due to the rise in drug cartel violence along the border, U.S. authorities transferred inspections to U.S.-based facilities. During inspections veterinarians are tasked with clearing the cattle for fever ticks, hoof and mouth disease and other illnesses.
“The real question is, why would (the) USDA even be taking a chance? How much risk is acceptable to place its civilian employees into for even the slight convenience of having the animals inspected in Mexico?” Hughes said.
Decision makers at USDA are not bad people, Hughes said, “But they’re making a bad decision, or they’re being pressured to make a bad decision, even though they may deny it. And these folks down there on the border are saying, ‘I’ve been loyal to this agency, why are they doing this to me?'”
Between 10,000 and 20,000 Mexican cattle are imported into the United States each month, according to the USDA.