A coalition of sheriffs from counties on the Mexican border in Texas is calling for help from the federal government to counteract what they see as growing crime and violence spilling over the border from Mexico. They also fear Middle Eastern terrorists may be taking advantage of the porous border.
Sheriffs from 14 of the 16 Texas counties that sit on the US/Mexico border have established The Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition to seek more help in dealing with crime related to border crossings. The host of the meeting, Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores, in Laredo, tells VOA that the surge in drug-related violence in Mexico does not stop at the Rio Grande river, which separates the two countries there.
"It is getting to the point that the violence that is happening in these border Mexican cities is now spilling over into the US towns and cities along the border and we are concerned about that," he said.
Sheriff Flores says he is also worried about information he has indicating that terrorists may be paying Mexican drug and immigrant smugglers for help in crossing the border.
"This is intelligence that we are gathering and also through Homeland Security and other federal authorities that there are terrorist cells, Middle Easterners, making their way through Mexico so they can come in through the back door of the United States," he added.
Sheriff Flores says he fears there could be another 9/11 (referring to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001). He says law enforcement agencies should be devoting more resources and intelligence gathering to the border area in order to prevent that.
But the Laredo lawman says people living on the border are already being terrorized by Mexican drug gangs.
"There are people who own property along the Rio Grande here in Texas who are targets of the drug cartels," he explained. "They are saying to them, 'Don't come to your place.' They are asking some of them who live in these areas to move out so they can do their activities. They are coming [after] their families, they are coming after them. We are talking about a very serious issue here that a lot of people do not really understand."
Meanwhile, in Arizona Thursday, the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, visited the border area and told reporters the Bush administration is committed to securing the border.
"There is a great deal of focus on this from the president on down here in the administration," said Mr. Chertoff. "So, I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the border area out here and to working with the senators and governors to secure the border in the way it needs to be secured."
Last month, some 800 civilian volunteers calling themselves The Minutemen, set up observation posts along one stretch of the Arizona/Mexico border and claimed success in reducing illegal activity in the area. They have now announced plans to carry out similar operations in other border areas. Some law enforcement officials, however, do not encourage civilians to get involved in this way and some human rights groups express concern that such groups could violate the human rights of immigrants who cross illegally over the border.