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07-27-06, 11:43 PM #1
Legislators warned about border gangs
Legislators warned about border gangs
Security measures failing against increasing violence, sophistication, sheriff says
09:17 AM CDT on Thursday, July 27, 2006
MISSION, Texas – Drug and smuggling gangs controlling Mexican border territory are an increasingly violent and sophisticated threat to Texas border law enforcement, Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzales told a state Senate committee Wednesday.
"The weapons we possess are like water guns compared to what they have," Sheriff Gonzales said.
Sheriff Gonzales, representing the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, was one of more than a dozen witnesses testifying before the Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. The panel was in South Texas for a hearing on border security and funding for sheriffs along the border.
Sheriff Gonzales said federal efforts to protect the U.S. side of the border have failed, allowing foreign criminals to infiltrate Texas counties.
"Many murders committed in Laredo were committed by Mexican gang members," he said, adding that improvised explosive devices seized in Laredo "we think were being brought to Mexico to be used against us."
Sheriff Gonzales said that in his county, residents have reported men marching two abreast, carrying backpacks and automatic weapons. He recounted the barrage of gunfire coming at Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies from across the Rio Grande this month.
"It's not just illegal immigrants," he said. "Something more frightening is happening."
Steve McCraw, the governor's director of homeland security, said: "I call them organized crime. They're no longer traffickers."
State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said the committee must ensure that state funds newly dedicated to help border sheriffs are well-used.
Mr. Hinojosa asked Gov. Rick Perry in May to create rules on how the sheriffs can spend the $367,500 awarded to each of 16 border counties under Mr. Perry's "Operation Linebacker."
His letter to Mr. Perry expressed concern that El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego was using grant money to run roadblocks and raids aimed at ferreting out illegal immigrants. Sheriff Samaniego has denied that, saying his department's checkpoints were part of a traffic safety program.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said the panel also is concerned about National Guard deployment to assist the Border Patrol, which President Bush called for but is being directed by border state governors.
"We want to make sure they serve their purpose without impeding rights," she said.
Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa testified that the deployment was perceived as a militarization. That could be upsetting to Mexican businessmen and shoppers who have made the Rio Grande Valley one of the top-performing retail areas in the U.S.
When Ms. Van de Putte asked how the Valley could maintain that status, Mr. Hinojosa said, "We certainly don't do it by sending in the National Guard."
Capt. D. Larimore
NTISF Gang Unit
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