Locals stress security resources as Napolitano visits
February 20, 2012 10:49 PM
Keeping drug cartel violence south of the U.S.-Mexico border will
require a sustained effort and collaboration from federal and local
law enforcement officials, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said
Monday on the first day of U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano's trip to the Rio Grande Valley.
Napolitano arrived Monday for the first of a two-day trip to receive
briefings from local officials, see South Texas border security
operations firsthand and learn about efforts to facilitate lawful
trade at the ports. Treviño will join other law enforcement officials
Tuesday in a private meeting with Napolitano, where he'll ask for
continued support from Operation Stonegarden, an initiative that
enhances local law enforcement's ability to aid border security
Since the federal grant program began in 2004, Hidalgo County has
received nearly $6 million to strategically double its manpower on
the streets, improve its crime fighting technology and make other
investments not available under the county budget. Treviño said
Stonegarden is aiding efforts by the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office
to limit spillover violence.
"We tell the truth and say violent crime is down and cartel violence
has been kept south of the river, but we get criticized because we
say we need money," said Treviño, who will provide federal
authorities unreleased crime statistics from his office that show a
"significant" decline in violent and property crime over the past
year. "If we're going to continue to lower the violent crime rate, we
have to have a sustained maintenance. That's why we need the
continued influx of federal funds."
Napolitano is scheduled to be joined on the trip by U.S. Customs and
Border Protection Acting Commissioner David Aguilar, who took over
the post after Alan Bersin left the post on Dec. 30. Before being
named acting commissioner, the Laredo native served as the chief of
the U.S. Border Patrol and once led sector operations in the Rio
Grande Valley and Tucson, Ariz.
Napolitano's previous trips to the Southwest border have allowed
local officials to discuss specific concerns about DHS operations at
and in between the ports of entry.
McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez said he would have liked to visit with
Napolitano about issues affecting his city. McAllen recently received
$7 million in state funding for lane expansions at the Anzalduas
International Bridge, but the funding was rejected by CBP after the
agency said it didn't have the manpower to staff them. The money was
slated to build four to six additional lanes to reduce congestion and
wait times, which often stretch for more than three hours to enter
the United States.
Cortez said Mexican maquiladoras are also pressing McAllen to find a
way to open the bridge to commercial traffic before the 2015 schedule.
"The issues that we're raising here are economic issues: How do we
improve our region to do business with Mexico, which has been a big
driver of our economy?" said Cortez, who was not extended an invite
to meet with Napolitano. "We need to be more efficient (at the ports)
and that part of the conversation should be considered."
Last week, the Texas Border Coalition criticized President Barack
Obama's latest budget proposal for not doing enough to address
personnel and infrastructure issues at official U.S.-Mexico border
crossings. The coalition — a group composed of border mayors, county
executives and local economic development officials who advocate on
behalf of communities along the border — says not enough is being
done to facilitate legitimate trade at the ports.
The coalition cited U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates
that $6 billion must be directed toward modernizing and expanding
them. The president's proposed budget largely holds the line on
spending at the ports, adding about 73 new customs agents while the
TBC says 6,000 are needed.
"They need to put their money where their mouth is and not implement
things unless they're going to fund them properly," said McAllen
businesswoman Monica Stewart, the chairwoman of the coalition's
border security committee. "We can't open the ports of entry unless
they're going to make them fully manned to run a true economic