- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

A coalition of Texas sheriffs says the Department of Homeland Security has been “doing a lot of talking” about securing the nation’s borders, but America’s Southwest continues to be overrun with illegal aliens, illicit drugs and rising violence.

“Maybe the time has come to do some listening,” the coalition said in a statement, adding that the “sound of honest dialogue from Texas is reverberating from El Paso to Brownsville … and the border is not yet secure.”

The Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, whose jurisdictions include the 1,200-mile U.S.-Mexico border, says it is talking with state leaders “about what they are doing, not what they plan to do when political currents change.”

Overwhelmed by a flood of illegal aliens and drugs along with increasing border violence, the coalition formed to seek funding from federal and state officials to help pay for rapidly escalating border-enforcement costs.

Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr., who has fewer than two dozen deputies to patrol nearly 1,000 square miles, including 60 miles of Texas-Mexico border, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s assertion that the United States is making progress in the war on terror on the border is misleading.

Mr. Chertoff has touted a reduction in apprehensions of illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico and a decline in drug seizures, saying both were the result of an increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and the assignment of 6,000 National Guard troops along the border.

“The reduction of apprehensions and seizures that Mr. Chertoff talks about comes as a result of transferring many agents away from Texas to other states,” said Sheriff Gonzalez.

“When you have less vigilance, obviously you are going to have less apprehensions and seizures.”

The sheriff said the coalition “thanks” the National Guard troops for what they are doing, but questioned limiting troops to a support role. The troops are not authorized to perform law-enforcement duties, only to call the Border Patrol when they spot illegal activity.

“The measured success is based on politics,” he said. “These great Americans have been asked to serve in a role that paints a picture of defense. Boots on the ground encountering criminal activity need to act, not react. Calling in a crime to law enforcement by regular citizens happens every day.

“Forcing Guard members into this role is a discredit to the work they perform outside the boundaries of this country,” he said.

Mr. Chertoff has said National Guard troops on the border as part of a two-year deployment known as “Operation Jump Start” has resulted in “a real decline in the total number of illegal migrants that are trying to come across our nation’s southern border.”

Sheriff Gonzalez also had words of advice for Mr. Chertoff: “If you want to hear the sound of people working hard, take a trip to Texas, keep your mouth closed for a few minutes, grow a big set of ears and listen. You’ll hear that crime is down because extra sheriffs’ units are patrolling the broken borders.”

Much of the coalition’s concerns center on increased incidents of violence along the border because of alien and drug smugglers, much of it targeting U.S. law-enforcement authorities.

Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico also issued a stern warning to Americans planning to visit that country, asking them to exercise extreme caution because of “the rising level of brutal violence” south of the Rio Grande.

Ambassador Tony Garza said violence had escalated throughout Mexico with sharp increases in homicides and kidnappings of Mexican and American citizens alike.

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