- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, which has asked for federal help in combating rising illegal immigration and drug smuggling, wants to expand its membership along the U.S.-Mexico border and has invited sheriffs from New Mexico, Arizona and California to meetings today and tomorrow in El Paso, Texas.

The coalition, which includes all 16 Texas border sheriffs, has asked its New Mexico, Arizona and California colleagues to join the two-day session to discuss pending federal immigration legislation and to set the groundwork for establishing the Southwest Border Sheriff’s Coalition.

Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr. of Zapata County, Texas, said a Southwest border coalition could work as a united enforcement team in dealing with crime issues that negatively affect counties along the U.S.-Mexico border. The coalition president said the group had commitments from nearly all of the counties along the Southwest border to attend the meeting.

Sheriff Gonzalez said the federal government’s failure to control the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border has put the lives of residents and federal, state and local law-enforcement officials along the border at risk. He said the cost to state and local law-enforcement officers who are being asked to respond to border issues has become a “financial nightmare” for several border counties.

Last year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry created Operation Linebacker, a $10 million program to help counties along the Texas border cope with the rising financial challenges of increased immigration and smuggling, and coalition members think the program may have affected county governments in New Mexico, Arizona and California.

“It has become apparent that some strategies incorporated with Operation Linebacker may have forced some threats west of Texas,” said Rick Glancey, the coalition’s interim executive director. “We think it’s important that whatever strategy is employed by the coalition doesn’t adversely affect our fellow sheriffs in New Mexico, Arizona or California.

The coalition members also are expected to meet with federal agencies assigned along the border — U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — to talk about how the coalition and federal authorities can work as a united team regarding border security.

“I think the Friday meeting is shaping up to be a very valuable opportunity for sheriffs from the Southwest to meet in one room with all of the Department of Homeland Security officials who work the first line of defense on the border from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California,” Sheriff Gonzalez said. “We have to continue to have an open and honest dialogue, because the border is a major responsibility for federal, state and county law enforcement.”

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