EL PASO -- As the violence in Juárez escalates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is preparing to send Texas Rangers to patrol and protect the Texas-Mexico border.
Perry says the Rangers are needed because Mexico's drug war is spilling into El Paso and other cities along the border. Perry cites a recent kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Horizon City as evidence that this side of the border is under siege.
Critics contend Perry is just posturing, preparing for a re-election campaign. They say Perry's move is designed to help control illegal immigration along the border as statistics do not support the claim that crime is increasing along the border.
Caught in the eye of this border crime debate is El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles. It is the sheriff who is charged by the state Legislature to protect El Paso. As the highest-ranking elected law enforcement officer in the county, Wiles must separate rhetoric from reality when it comes to determining what impact the Mexican drug war is having on El Paso.
Wiles, 47, became sheriff in January, after retiring as the city's police chief.
Q What do you think of Perry's plan to send Texas Ranger recon teams to the Texas-Mexico border?
A The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has an excellent working relationship with the Texas Department of Public Safety/Texas Rangers. Having additional law enforcement resources placed along the border is a definite benefit that will assist us in keeping our community safe.
Q To better help the sheriff's department do its job, what resources would you ask of the state and federal governments?
A The main responsibility of the Sheriff's Office is the security and safety of our community. Given our location along a major international border, we are confronted with issues that agencies in the interior of the United States do not have to deal with, such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, etc. The end result is that we have to pull local resources away from our neighborhoods to handle these issues. As such, what I have continually asked from the federal and state government is to provide the necessary funding to hire additional sheriff's deputies. Local taxpayers should not have to solely shoulder the burden of handling crime issues specifically related to the international border.
Q In his announcement, Perry said there is increasing violence along the border. Is that true for El Paso County? What evidence is there either way?
A Notwithstanding the tragic high levels of violence in Juárez, Mexico, it is clear that El Paso remains one of the safest large cities in the United States. But, while there is not a general increase in violent crimes in El Paso, we must remain vigilant because of the current bloody fight for control of drug distribution routes taking place right across our border.
Q A broad-day kidnapping of a U.S. resident recently occurred in Horizon City, is this something residents in El Paso should be worried about? Is this evidence that the violence from Mexico is spilling over?
A Unfortunately, we have had to deal with "spill over" from the drug trade for years in El Paso. The kidnapping in Horizon City is not the only incident of violence in El Paso that can be directly related to the drug trade. Drugs, human trafficking and crimes along the border related to these issues definitely are something El Paso has had to contend with and certainly something that citizens should be concerned about.
Q You testified once in Washington, D.C., and stated that immigration enforcement was the federal government's job, not the sheriff's department. Is that still your stand and what do you tell your deputies about this issue?
A The U.S. government is responsible for the security of our borders. And while we have recently seen some signs of improvement, it is clear that many of the problems we deal with today are directly related to the inaction of the federal government in the past.
Local and county law enforcement agencies do not have the resources, the training, or the experience necessary to enforce federal immigration laws. There is potential liability to the local taxpayer as well as the concern that the trust and cooperation of the community could suffer. It is in our best interest that crime victims, legal or otherwise, report crime to the proper authorities.
Consistent with this viewpoint, deputies are instructed not to stop individuals solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status. To do otherwise would be unethical and considered racial profiling, a violation of state law.
However, when a deputy makes a lawful stop based upon reasonable suspicion that an individual has, is or will commit a crime and during the stop it is determined that the individual is an undocumented immigrant, the deputy can communicate this information to the appropriate federal agency. Additionally, I have recently signed onto the Secure Communities Program operated by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) which identifies criminal undocumented immigrants in our local jail for appropriate action by ICE officials.
Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6142.