Pubdate: Sun, 11 Feb 2007
Source: Monitor, The (McAllen, TX)
Copyright: 2007 The Monitor
Author: Jeremy Roebuck, Monitor Staff Writer


McALLEN -- With more than $40 million in state grants already spent
since 2005 on securing the Texas-Mexico border, Gov. Rick Perry is
asking for more.

But experts say convincing state legislators to go along with the plan
will involve political maneuvering that has already blurred the line
between immigration enforcement and combating border crime.

During his State of the State address Tuesday, Perry repeated calls
for an additional $100 million to bolster border security efforts. The
speech came a week after the end of Operation Wrangler, the latest in
a string of law enforcement initiatives that have targeted drug and
human traffickers.

The governor's remarks and recent statewide efforts seem to speak to
two divided camps, said Jerry Polinard, a political science professor
at the University of Texas-Pan American.

The first, a hard-line wing of the Republican Party, looks at past
initiatives like operations Linebacker and Rio Grande as part of an
overall effort to crack down on illegal immigrants, Polinard said.
Others support Perry's tough stance on drug smugglers but believe
state and local authorities have no place enforcing federal
immigration law.

"He's kind of performing a balancing act" without taking a stand on
either side of the issue, Polinard said.

Although the governor's office has always cited cutting crime as the
primary goal of these campaigns, immigrant rights groups question
their true effects, while Perry's critics doubt they have accomplished
anything at all.

"We continue to be very concerned about blurring the line between
civil and criminal border policing," said Rebecca Bernhardt, a policy
director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Wrangler teamed up 133 police departments and 90 sheriff's departments
across the state with U.S. federal agents from the Drug Enforcement
Administration, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and
soldiers from the National Guard. During a Jan. 24 news conference at
the McAllen Police Department, Perry touted the effort as solely
focused on combating drug and human trafficking.

But during the weeklong operation, the Mexican Consulate in Dallas
charged that local law enforcement had used overtime hours to detain
illegal immigrants who had not committed any crime.

Similar allegations arose during Operation Linebacker's run, during
which sheriff's offices in 16 counties received $15 million in state
grants. In May 2005, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen,
called on Perry to outline appropriate uses for the money after
hearing reports that El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samniego had set up
checkpoints designed to catch undocumented workers.

Bernhardt worries that incidents like the ones in Dallas and El Paso
could frustrate the everyday efforts of border law enforcement agencies.

"When the huge immigrant population in these communities believes that
local law enforcement is coming after them, they're going to be
hesitant to work with police on other issues," she said.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino has frequently voiced concerns
over this blurred line, prohibiting his deputies from stopping or
apprehending individuals "solely on the belief that they are in this
country illegally."

But the more important question, he said, is how money for border
security efforts is spent. So far, Perry's office has not released
statewide numbers on Operation Wrangler's results, but Trevino doubts
a one-week initiative can have a long-term effect on border crime.

"Can I sit here and tell you that Operation Wrangler had any sort of
impact on our levels of drug trafficking and human smuggling?"
Trevino said. "I just don't know."

Still, he supports any effort attempting to tackle the issue, while
arguing that the best solutions to the border security problem must
involve a longer commitment.

"Once you take care of a problem, you have to keep using resources to
maintain the fix," he said. "Hopefully, Wrangler can be used as a
stepping stone. I feel confident that the extra $100 million could be
the answer." 
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath