COMMITTEE TACKLES BORDER SECURITY
(EL PASO) — The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee met in El Paso Wednesday to hear testimony from local and state officials on the security of the border between Texas and Mexico. Border security and its antecedent issues like drug trafficking and illegal immigration have leapt to the forefront of national policy debate in the past few years. State legislatures across the country have debated more than a thousand bills relating to border issues, according to National Conference of State Legislatures official Anne Morse. Much of this legislation deals with the state's role in enforcing federal immigration policy.
One Texas community that has developed a successful program to deal with illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S. is found far from the border. Irving Chief of Police Larry Boyd testified about his city's program to check the immigration status of all individuals arrested, either for misdemeanors or felonies, and then contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, who have jurisdiction over illegal immigrants. Boyd said his officers in the field do not check immigration status.
Asking patrolling police officers to enforce immigration policy would be a dire mistake, according to El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez. Successful policing depends on trust between a community and officers, he said, and if immigrants are more concerned about deportation than helping to catch criminals, witnesses become more reluctant to step forward. Victims of domestic abuse, marital, child or elder abuse, are often afraid to contact the police for fear of facing ICE officers, Rodriguez said.
Just across the border from El Paso is Juarez, Mexico, a community that has seen hundreds of murders this year relating to drug trafficking and gang violence. El Paso, however, has one of the lowest crime rates in the country for a city its size. This can be attributed, according to FBI Agent in Charge David Cuthbertson, in the close cooperation between agencies at all levels of government. He says FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, state troopers, local law enforcement and others all work in close concert, sharing information across jurisdictions, to increase border security.
The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee is chaired by Dallas Senator John Carona, vice-Chaired by Austin Senator Kirk Watson, and consists of Senators Tommy Williams, Kim Brimer, Rodney Ellis, Florence Shapiro, Jeff Wentworth, Eliot Shapleigh and Robert Nichols.