Lynn Brezosky, AP, July 26, 2006
Mission — Drug and smuggling gangs controlling Mexican border territory are proving an increasingly violent and sophisticated threat to Texas border law enforcement, Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzales told a state Senate committee today.
“The weapons we possess are like water guns compared to what they have,” Gonzales said. “They’re trying to scare us away from the border.”
Gonzales, representing the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, was one of more than a dozen witnesses testifying before the Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. The panel was in South Texas for a hearing on border security and funding for sheriffs along the border.
Gonzales said federal efforts to protect the U.S. side of the border have failed, allowing foreign criminals to infiltrate Texas counties — in some cases just to commit violent crimes before slipping back into Mexico.
“Many committed in Laredo were committed by Mexican gang members,” he said. “(Improvised e Devices) seized in Laredo, we think were being brought to Mexico to be used against us.”
Laredo is in Webb County, just west of Zapata County. Gonzales said that in his own county, residents have reported men marching two abreast, carrying backpacks and automatic weapons. He recounted the barrage of gunfire coming at Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies from across the Rio Grande this month.
“It’s not just illegal immigrants,” he said. “Something more frightening is happening.”
Steve McCraw, the governor’s director of homeland security, said: “I call them organized crime. They’re no longer traffickers.”
John David Franz, mayor of the border city of Hidalgo, said he was concerned his police officers might be asked to do immigration functions, such as checking for identification.
“As a taxpayer, I don’t want them in the business of who is an illegal immigrant and who is not,” he said. “We should not make our law enforcement immigration officials.”