Law Enforcement Officials Join Forces to Keep Border Violence in Check

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

As the battle wages on for control of the drug market in Mexico, so does another war, the one to keep our borders safe from the threat of violence.

State, local and federal law enforcement officials want to make sure that violence doesn't spill over to West Texas.

Ciudad Juarez and El Paso are among the areas being hardest hit by drug wars and violence.

Right now, in our area, things seem to be pretty quiet, with no immediate threats on the horizon.  But, there are people, on both sides of the border, who are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Sheriff Ronny Dodson is the law in Brewster County. 
"I understand that further up the river, between here and El Paso, some villages have been abandoned because they're scared to death of what's going on," he said.

Stretching 6,198 square miles, Brewster is the largest border county in the state, sharing 192 miles of border with Mexico.  With heavy illegal alien traffic, Dodson says things aren't the same as they were 10-15 years ago, "We're starting to see a little bit different clientele coming up, out of Mexico.  I think some of the push that El Paso, Del Rio and Laredo, is starting to push towards our area.  In fact, our burglary rate on ranches and residential homes south of Alpine is up, quite a bit."

Before, illegals would take food and maybe something to drink.  Today, they're getting bolder, stealing jewelry and binoculars, even guns.  A recent arrest nabbed a member of a well known gang, the MS-13, who made his way into Texas, from Mexico.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, Marfa Sector, so far this year, they have seen a 25% increase in the number of illegal alien arrests.  They estimate, by the end of the year,  they will have arrested close to 7,000 total.

But that's not all.  They have also seen a jump in the number of narcotics arrests.  In fact, as of this past April, they had already doubled the amount of arrests made, in all of 2009.  Most of it, marijuana.  Agents say they have a pretty good idea where it's coming from.

According to Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Benjamine Huffman, "It's not independent operators.  Most of its tied to the various different cartels out of Mexico.  We are speculating that maybe our current increase has to do with the more violent areas, say in Juarez, and they've moved out to these rural areas."

"Let me tell you, if there's dope coming across, one of the cartels has got the control over it, because you just don't go into the dope business in Mexico, by yourself," Sheriff Dodson said.

But the fight for safe borders doesn't just focus what comes into the U.S.  At the Presidio Port of Entry, people headed south into Mexico face the same screening procedures as those coming out.

"We try to look for firearms, ammunition and cash.  These are the types of items that fuel the drug cartels in Mexico, so we try to crack down on that," Asst. Port Director Alex Leos, said.

It's constant communication between all these agencies that helps keep a close, watchful eye on what's going on along the border.

While things seem to be okay for now, Leos says he and his officers take their jobs very seriously, "Any type of violence is of concern to us, especially in a small community like this.  You really don't want to see what Ciudad Juarez or Por Venir is going through."

Sheriff Dodson says, the concern is on both sides of the river, "We have a relationship with people in Mexico, that give us a heads up on what they see.  You've got to understand, there's people over there that are pretty scared themselves.  If they see something, they call us and let us know there's something going on and it's not right."

Officials say they have plans and protocols in place and that their good, working relationships help them to be ready to respond quickly and efficiently, in the event of a violent outbreak.