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September 18, 2008 (512) 463-0300

BORDER OFFICIALS ASK FOR MORE RESOURCES TO INCREASE SECURITY

(AUSTIN) -- Mayors, police chiefs, and sheriffs from all along the Texas-Mexico border were in Austin Thursday to ask Senators for more money, personnel, and equipment to meet growing security needs. The International Relations and Trade Committee hosted the hearing to address its interim charge to look at illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human smuggling. According to testimony offered at the Thursday meeting, current funding levels are not getting the job done.

Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores' testimony was characteristic of remarks submitted at the meeting. Flores said that his county, the sixth largest in Texas, is completely traversable by drug and human traffickers, and he lacks the funding and personnel to catch them. His department is 60 to 70 deputies short of necessary staffing levels, and his staff lacks the resources to cope with increasing levels of illegal cross border activity. He asked for money for equipment, like seismic sensors to detect tunneling, and manned and unmanned aircraft to patrol his region.

Sheriff Arvin West from Hudspeth County reported that the current system of checkpoints along Interstate 10 is inadequate to catch smugglers. Checkpoints are dangerous, he said; accidents occur as traffic is slowed down and forced into one lane. He added that too many tractor-trailers are waved through without being checked, and asked for funding to create special stations dedicated to checking semis along I-10. West went on to say that incarceration of border criminals often falls to county jails. Increasing enforcement and apprehension also means more money to house and feed inmates and less space to hold them.

Eric Nichols of the Attorney General's office appeared to brief the committee about a recent report compiled by his agency relating to human smuggling. The report states that the Texas-Mexico border is used to bring people into the country against their will to be put into virtual slavery in sweatshops, on farms and into the commercial sex trade. According to U.S. State Department estimates, one in five people illegally smuggled into the country cross over the Texas border. A recent AG report showed that the state lacks a systematic procedure to track and record statistics relating to human trafficking in Texas. The report recommends the creation of a special task force dedicated to catching human traffickers and harsher penalties for smugglers. Additionally, it calls for better education for law enforcement officials to identify victims of human smuggling and funding for state-based social services to help those victims.

The International Relations and Trade Committee is chaired by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Laredo and vice-chaired by Houston Senator Dan Patrick. The committee consists of Senators Robert Nichols, Carlos Uresti, Kel Seliger, Troy Fraser and Mario Gallegos, Jr.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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