- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

A coalition of Texas border sheriffs will testify at Capitol Hill hearings this week that illegal immigration and drug smuggling have sent law-enforcement costs soaring and exposed their deputies and communities to escalating violence.

Overwhelmed by a flood of illegal aliens, drug smugglers and rapidly increasing violence, the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition — which includes all the sheriffs from Texas’ 16 border counties — want the federal government to help them pay for manpower increases, rising fuel bills, vehicles and equipment.

“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,” said Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez.

Sheriff Gonzalez, who heads the coalition, has argued that the federal government’s failure to control illegal immigration and drug smuggling and to curtail growing violence along the 1,200-mile U.S.-Mexico border in Texas has forced county law-enforcement authorities into a “financial nightmare.”

“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.

The coalition says criminal organizations involved in narcotics and human trafficking have become more sophisticated and dangerous and, as a result have moved their operations all along the border.

Val Verde County Sheriff D’Wayne Jernigan, backed by eight coalition members, will testify tomorrow before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, and the subcommittee on immigration, border security and citizenship. The hearing is titled “Federal Strategies to End Border Violence.”

On Thursday, a joint hearing by the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, and the subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security will hear from Sheriff Gonzalez and El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego.

Executive Director Rick Glancey said the coalition it has reached out to other law-enforcement agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border “who share the same unique problems with very limited resources.”

“We have decided as a coalition to reach out to our fellow sheriffs in neighboring states to prove the issue is not about politics or a hidden agenda; it is about border security,” Mr. Glancey said. “You must have border security in order to have national security and homeland security.”

Joining the coalition in support at the hearings will be Sheriff Larry Dever of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office in southern Arizona and Sheriff Todd Garrison of the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Department in southern New Mexico.

Sheriff Dever’s jurisdiction includes 83 miles of U.S.-Mexico border that have become the nation’s most traveled immigration corridor.

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