- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

County governments in Texas, overwhelmed by a flood of illegal aliens and rapidly increasing border violence, want the federal government to come up with $10 million to help them pay for manpower increases, rising fuel bills and much-needed vehicles and equipment.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, a member of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, said the federal government’s failure to control illegal immigration and to curtail the growing violence along the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border had forced county law-enforcement authorities into a “financial nightmare.”

“We have tried everything we know to make the federal government aware of the problems at the border and how they have [affected] us,” Sheriff Gonzalez told The Washington Times. “And while they say they are aware of the problems, they just leave it alone.”

The Texas coalition includes all the sheriffs from Texas’ 16 border counties. They think the U.S. government has failed to control the border and formed the alliance to seek funding from federal officials to help pay for their rapidly escalating border-enforcement costs.

“We feel our government is not protecting our country, particularly at a time when terrorists could make their way into the United States through our southern border,” Sheriff Gonzalez said. “If anything happens along the border areas, we’re the first ones to respond, and it’s the local taxpayers who are footing the bills for the federal government’s inability to control the area.”

The coalition will meet next month in El Paso to discuss its funding request, Sheriff Gonzalez said, adding that while $10 million “may not seem like much to elected officials in Washington,” it would “go a long way” toward paying for new personnel, overtime, equipment and fuel.

Sheriff Gonzalez said he did not know what response to expect for the funding request. He noted that in July, when it invited President Bush, a former Texas governor, the state’s two U.S. senators, six members of Congress who represent Texas’ border areas, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and other elected officials to a coalition meeting, only Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, attended.

A major concern to the coalition, Sheriff Gonzalez said, is the possibility that terrorists could be paying Mexican drug and immigrant smugglers for help in crossing the border. In the meantime, Sheriff Gonzalez said Texas border residents are terrorized by rising violence.

Zapata County, with about 13,000 residents and a median annual income of $24,635, is about 50 miles south of Laredo, Texas, along the Rio Grande. Sheriff Gonzalez has fewer than two dozen deputies to patrol nearly 1,000 square miles, including 60 miles of Texas-Mexico border.

“We are concerned about this border, and what we’re asking for is help in being able to better defend it,” he said.

Nuevo Laredo, across the river from Laredo, has been the site of a deadly war between drug cartels and more than 100 people have been killed this year. A gang of Mexican military deserters known as the “Zetas” work out of Nuevo Laredo to protect cocaine and marijuana being brought into the United States.

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