SEPTEMBER 2, 2004—Three members of the Congressional Homeland Security Committee visit the Valley Tuesday with concerns for tighter security measures along the Texas-Mexico border—particularly in the Rio Grande Valley.
Action 4 News has learned that Al Qaeda cells—each group having from seven to fifteen suspected terrorist members can be found just across the Rio Grande Valley in Mexico.
“We know from intelligence reports that there are middle easterners that are making their way in our direction,” said U.S. Congressman Jim Turner during a news conference at the Los Tomates International Bridge in Brownsville.
“We don’t know their purpose, but we do know that they are there and those reports are coming in increasing numbers. So it should be a wake-up call.”
Action 4 News has learned that federal agents have been placed on heightened alert. Local law enforcement agencies have also been notified to keep a watchful eye out for possible terroristic movement.
“I think they know exactly where they might be, so I feel very comfortable knowing that once we get the right information we can put a stop to it,” said U.S. Congressman Solomon Ortiz.
But there is a problem says Ortiz and the other homeland security committee members who say the Texas border is not secure enough.
And that is why they wanted to see the border facilities first hand.
Another major concern is the increasing number of Central and South American immigrants who are coming into the country.
“We do have a very serious problem . . . ”
“The Salvatrucha gangs are very serious, very viscous and we have confirmed that they have had contact with Al Qaeda,” said Ortiz.
El Salvador, Honduras, even Brazil are among the Central and South American countries where gangs have been potentially infected by Osama Bin Laden’s recruitment for terror.
Members of the House Homeland Security Committee say surveillance is there but the nation is not secure.
“We are almost half the size we need to be.”
It’s a critical border shortfall committee member Sheila Jackson Lee is bringing to light.
“We have failed to pay attention to some of these areas and provide full funding.”
The committee points to a billion dollar border upgrade for technology, manpower, training, equipment and most of all detention cell space.
Statistically some 400,000 illegal immigrants are detained each year. Thousands every day.
But with only 19,000 detention cells to hold them, it’s a border battle Congressman Turner says we are losing.
“About 80 to 90 percent of those released into our country never show up for a hearing. You know that represents a serious security threat to this country and it’s got to stop.”
The lawmakers make a clear distinction that immigration does not equate to terrorism. But they do acknowledge terrorists exist. And along one of the poorest borders with what they say is one of the biggest security gaps, communication is a must.
The lawmakers agree on one clear message: “We need help!”