Sheriffs, congressman question, Homeland Security's claim of a secure border

By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

Violence along the U.S. Mexico border – particularly in Arizona and Texas – is worse than ever, local law enforcement agency heads told several panels of U.S. Representatives and Senators this spring.

“We’re concerned with the increasing threat that the border is more insecure than it has ever been,” said Steven McCraw, director of the Texas DPS, indirectly referencing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s March statement that border security was “better than ever.”

In April and May, multiple hearings showcased sharp disagreements between the Obama administration and many members of Congress regarding whether the drug war is spilling over into the U.S.

“There are hit squad members of the cartels living in Texas,” McCraw said. “To say there isn’t violence and concern … cartels are using their own spike strips when they’re pursued in high-speed chases.”

Other examples include:

  • One year after a 34-year-old Texas man was kidnapped by a drug cartel, all leads are cold.
  • In fall 2010, Phoenix experienced its first cartel beheading.
  • By early May, cartel gunmen used a grenade launcher to hit a bus carrying employees of a U.S. toymaker in the northern Mexico city of Monterrey.

In DC, members of Congress heard first-hand reports of cartel-fueled violence from several Arizona and Texas sheriffs and police chiefs.

“Violence has spilled over the border – and it will continue to be a part of our landscape until we control the border,” Cochise (AZ) County Sheriff Larry Dever said.

Dever said smugglers weren’t prosecuted for years in Arizona if they were found with less than 500 pounds of marijuana, and cocaine and methamphetamine thresholds also were high.

The cartel influence has boosted both the number and intensity of threats to U.S. cops.

“Smugglers used to jump and run,” said Dever, who wore a white cowboy hat. “Now they fight. Everybody we run into is armed.”

Sen. John McCain told Napolitano during a May hearing that he remembered a 1986 promise to secure the border when millions of illegal immigrants were granted amnesty.

“I’m grateful for (recent) improvements,” McCain said. “But I’d argue that they have not kept up with the escalation of violence on the other side of the border.”

Some DHS sources have pointed to a recent FBI report appears to show some improved crime statistics along the border.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-TX, however, pointed out that those figures omit kidnappings, extortions, and violence between traffickers.

“I don’t think we’re getting an accurate picture here,” McCaul said. “The stats aren’t honest.”

Gomecindo Lopez, commander with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, said smugglers overwhelm local police.

The situation is worsened because Mexico lacks the infrastructure “to properly arrest and prosecute criminal offenders,” Lopez said, leaving U.S. counterparts to do the heavy lifting. LL