NEWS

Border Sheriffs Say Federal Government Must Do More to Secure Border

By Matthew Harwood

Law enforcement officers from border states criticized the federal government’s response to border security issues at a hearing today, as officials outlined how federal personnel and resources are being used to respond to the various, and often violent, crimes associated with Mexican drug cartels.

“Persons living 50 miles or more away from the border have the impression that this border is very well protected,” Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, Jr., of Zapata County, Texas, told a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing. “This is farce. The border is not protected.

Since 9-11, Gonzalez told subcommittee members that Texas law enforcement has had to rely on state funds rather than federal funds to finance border security measures.

Sheriff Larry A. Dever of Cochise County, Arizona, also identified a lack of federal funds for border security as a problem but in more measured terms.

“We do not have the resources to successfully meet our obligations, and therefore require some relief,” he said.

A little more than a decade ago, Dever said his county could expect to receive 33 cents of every dollar spent on dealing with illegal aliens reimbursed by the federal government. Today, it receives 9 cents. He also criticized Congress’ decision to cut $480 million from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which help states and localities deal with crimes associated with drugs, gangs, and violence.

Dever did, however, single out the Department of Homeland Security’s Operation Stonegarden for praise. The program, established in 2004, assists state and local law enforcement with the costs of border security.

Just last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano modified the program to give state, local, and tribal law enforcement an additional $59 million to strengthen their border security efforts, said Richard Barth, acting secretary for policy at DHS.

That move came as the Obama administration announced its Southwest Boarder Initiative, which aims to contain cartel-related violence through an influx of federal agents, officers, and technology.

Among the many programs to get a boost from the initiative are the much touted Border Enforcement Security Task (BEST) Forces, which combine federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement personnel to target and disrupt criminal organizations on the border through increased coordination and information-sharing. DHS will double the number of agents assigned to BEST teams at the southwest border from 95 to 190.

But fears that U.S. law enforcement will eventually face cartel violence similar to Mexican law enforcement consumed Gonzalez’s testimony.

Across the border in Mexico, 550 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the drug war, Subcommittee Chairman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said in his opening statement.

Gonzalez, who heads the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, said it’s only a matter of time before a shootout breaks out between cartel members and federal, state, and local law enforcement.

The surprising thing, however, may be who he thinks will win.

"Compared to the ruthless and brazen and open behavior of the cartels we face, we are most certainly outmanned,” he said. “In the event of a shootout, many casualties will likely occur.

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