ZAPATA, Texas — The sheriff in this southern Texas border community, overrun with illegal aliens and drug smugglers, sees little evidence that the Department of Homeland Security can control the nation’s borders or stop terrorists from entering the U.S.
Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr., who has spent 30 years with the Zapata County Sheriff’s Office and leads its 24-member force, said his outmanned deputies do daily battle with alien and drug smugglers who have better weapons, vehicles, radios, computers, telephones, Global Positioning Systems and night vision equipment.
“It’s the federal government’s responsibility to ensure border security, and I would think that after September 11, the government would be concerned about making sure these borders are secure,” he said. “But I assure you, the border here is very, very porous. How can anyone honestly say we are doing our best to prevent another terrorist attack from happening?”
Sheriff Gonzalez said the federal government’s failure to control the border and to curb the growing violence along the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico boundary led to the creation this year of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition.
Sheriffs from Texas’ 16 border counties formed the alliance to create what Sheriff Gonzalez said would be a “single voice” in seeking funding from federal officials to help pay for their rapidly escalating border-enforcement costs.
“We tried everything we know, with little success, to make the federal government aware of the problems we face and how they have affected us,” Sheriff Gonzalez told The Washington Times while checking established alien and drug smuggling sites less than five miles from his headquarters.
“The creation of the Department of Homeland Security has done nothing to help us,” he said.
The sheriffs want federal help in funding a multimillion-dollar effort to increase the number of deputies along the border and to buy the necessary equipment for them to get the job done.
A major coalition concern, Sheriff Gonzalez said, is the possibility that terrorists will pay Mexican alien and drug smugglers for help in crossing the border. He said federal authorities told his office that al Qaeda terrorists are looking to use alien smugglers, including members of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, to get militants into the United States.
The same authorities said would-be terrorists were going to Central America to learn Spanish so they could blend in with illegal aliens headed into the United States, Sheriff Gonzalez said.
“If smugglers can bring a hundred people or 2,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States, how simple would it be to bring terrorists into this country, or a suitcase loaded with a dirty bomb?” he said. “I am very surprised it hasn’t already happened.”
Zapata County, with 13,000 residents, is 50 miles south of Laredo, Texas, along the Rio Grande. The county’s two dozen deputies are responsible for nearly 1,000 square miles, including 60 miles of the Texas-Mexico border.
Compounding that effort is that Nuevo Laredo, across the river from Laredo, has been the site of a deadly war between drug cartels in which more than 135 people have been killed this year. In Nuevo Laredo, a gang of Mexican military deserters known as the “Zetas” works to protect cocaine and marijuana being brought into the United States.
The violence in Nuevo Laredo, the sheriff said, has filtered down the river into his county.
“We need help, and the federal government has got to start listening to us,” he said.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said this week that a special team of federal agents will be dispatched to Texas to combat violent crime along the Mexican border.