- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will meet next month with members of the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, who have vigorously called on the federal government to include state and local law-enforcement authorities in efforts to secure the border.

Representing 28 counties along the 1,951-mile border from Texas to California, the coalition has asked for federal help in combating rising illegal entry and drug smuggling, saying the federal government’s failure to control the border has put the lives of border residents and law-enforcement officials at risk.

“The Southwestern Border Sheriffs Coalition was formed for just this purpose: to support our law-enforcement partners as we address those issues particular to the international border,” said Yuma County, Ariz., Sheriff Ralph Ogden, the coalition chairman. “This meeting will provide firsthand information to those in Washington who are making the decisions on how to secure our borders.”

The meeting was arranged by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and refugees.

“Fighting crime, securing our borders and ensuring legitimate trade and travel require strong partnerships throughout government,” Mr. Cornyn said. “This meeting will allow those on the front lines to discuss these and other issues directly.”

Sheriff Ogden, whose 5,520-square-mile county has become a popular alien-smuggling corridor with more than a 50 percent jump in apprehensions last year, has argued that law-enforcement agencies along the border face not only immigration issues but border-security concerns.

“These meetings and the meetings we hold regularly with our federal partners are part of the strong partnerships that Senator Cornyn has spoken about: securing our border by getting the input from the sheriffs on the front line,” he said.

The coalition has urged the federal government to work with state and local law-enforcement authorities to address the issue of border security, saying that while federal officials have been “doing a lot of talking” about securing the nation’s borders, the Southwest continues to be overrun by illegal aliens, illicit drugs and rising violence.

“Maybe the time has come to do some listening,” the coalition said in a statement.

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.

While Mr. Chertoff has touted a reduction in apprehensions of illegals and a decline in drug seizures as signs the government is gaining operational control of the border, Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr. has described the assertions as misleading.

“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, the coalition’s founder. “When you have less vigilance, obviously you are going to have less apprehensions and seizures.”

Sheriff Gonzalez said much of the coalition’s concerns focus on rising violence on the border, much of which targets U.S. law-enforcement authorities.

He said it seeks to bring “one voice” to agencies along the border to help combat border crime, but has described the organization as only a temporary fix “until the federal government figures out what it is going to do on a national level to develop a policy or law to control not only illegal immigration but border violence.”

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