By: John Bradshaw
SAN ANTONIO - The phrase "border security" is thrown around a lot by politicians, but Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West said it really should be changed to "border insecurity". "Because insecurity we have a lot of; security we don't have much of," he said. More people need to visit the border, he went on, and they would be surprised at what they find. There are places where a train could be brought through undetected. "And yet our federal government tells us our border is secure," he said. Sheriff West and Rusty Fleming recently gave a presentation on the current state of things along the border to a group of concerned citizens in San Antonio.
Fleming, along with serving as the sheriff's office public information officer, is a filmmaker and documentarian who focuses on the cartels and the drug wars. He has spent years in Mexico interviewing and filming those in the drug business.
The tag-team presentation hit the high points of the border issue. A big problem West pointed out is that the counties must fund much of the extra law enforcement needs. The jail in Hudspeth County, West explained, can house 124 people and usually holds about 100, but only a handful of those are actually locals. "That's a burden to my local taxpayers," West said. The federal government has promised to reimburse the county, but the only money the county has received has been cents on the dollar. "The pipeline between Washington D.C. and the border has got a leak somewhere. They may fill that pipeline in Washington, but by the time it trickles down here, that money is gone," West said.
West discussed the Mexican community of Porvenir, which is located across from Fort Hancock. Porvenir used to be home to thousands, but today there are only a couple of hundred residents. The cartels ran or burned everyone out. "There was a 78 year-old man who decided he wasn't leaving his house that he had spent his lifetime building; they gouged his eyes out with an icepick and set his house on fire," West said.
Many of those fleeing residents crossed the river, which has caused some problems on this side. The American youths began running with the Mexican youths, some of whom already had ties with the cartels, and soon the Americans were getting into trouble themselves. Fleming showed some videos and spent some time speaking about the cartels. Even though some of their methods are often barbaric, the cartels are also sophisticated. Fleming said the Zetas even have a college tuition program. Those students study law or computer science, and then they work for the cartel after graduation.
Juarez is generally considered the murder capital of the world. Fleming said there are eight to 10 murders every day, and at the time of the presentation there had been 40 police officers killed this year. However, just across the bridge is El Paso, which Fleming called the third safest large U.S. city. The reason is because the cartels choose not to operate in El Paso; it is not because of the border or law enforcement. "The cartels are the ones that dictate whether it is peaceful or violent. It isn't us. I guarantee you, they're the ones that have control," Fleming said.
Many of the cartel leaders live in El Paso, Fleming said. El Paso's economy is tied to the drug trade, too. New homes and businesses are springing up, along with banks that hold cartel money. Fleming once interviewed one of the head men of a cartel. The man explained that all the assets he or his counterparts amass in Mexico always get taken over by someone coming behind them. The only assets they can pass on to their families are those held in the United States, such as businesses and real estate. The majority of the money still travels back to Mexico, though. Fleming told of a common money laundering scheme used by the cartels in El Paso and elsewhere. Drug money is deposited onto prepaid debit cards, which are not reported as long as each deposit is under $10,000. The cartels have men doing this hundreds of times per day, and then they can walk those cards over the border undetected. "And they're doing this each and every day," Fleming said.
West and Fleming showed videos and still photos of some of the carnage in Mexico, some of them so graphic they drew gasps from the crowd. "These are just reality pictures that you guys needed to see," West said. One video showed the ingenuity of the smugglers and the futility of the border fence. A group of smugglers inserted a high-lift jack under the fence, raised it up and sent a load of dope under, and then let the fence down and went on their way.
West believes he could secure the border in Hudspeth County in less than a day, if only he had the manpower. His solution, he explained, is that unlike the Border Patrol, he would place deputies along the border, not some distance north of it. West said that back in 2005, when the fighting in Nuevo Laredo was at its peak, he and Fleming both told people it was nothing compared with the violence that would occur when the fighting began in Juarez. "There hasn't been any comparison. The killing in Juarez has just surpassed what they did in Nuevo Laredo," West said. And even though Juarez is still in the storm, West said it is nothing compared with what will happen when the east and west coasts of Mexico go to battle over territory. "Mark my words on that," West said.