Hundreds of rounds of automatic-weapons fire rained down on South Texas sheriff’s deputies and Border Patrol agents from the Mexican side of the border as they investigated a horror story told by two American brothers who fled across the Rio Grande fearing for their lives.
Several Hidalgo County deputies and at least four Border patrol agents were met with a sustained hail of gunfire alternating from the south to the east and lasting nearly 10 minutes, the officers said.
Yet, not a single shot was returned by the deputies or the Border Patrol officers last Wednesday night because they were outmanned and outgunned – a condition increasingly common along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, say law enforcement officials.
“This is one of the reasons that I do not allow my deputies to patrol the riverbanks or levies close to the river,” explained Sheriff Lupe Trevi?o, “because we do know there are drug gangs and human trafficking gangs that will not hesitate to shoot in our direction to get us out of the area.”
U.S. police officers and Border Patrol agents facing superior firepower from drug cartels, criminal street gangs and human smugglers based in Mexico? Yes, say law enforcement officials – and the situation is getting worse, not better.
Sigifredo Gonzales Jr., sheriff of Zapata County, Texas, recently testified in startling detail before a congressional committee how his officers are facing overwhelming odds in any confrontation with the criminal gangs who consider the border their turf.
“The cartels operating in Mexico and the United States have demonstrated that the weapons they possess can and will be used in protecting their caches,” he said. “One informant familiar with the operations of these cartels mentioned to us that the weapons we use are water guns compared to what we will have to come up against if we ever have to. These cartels, known to frequently cross into the United States, possess and use automatic weapons, grenades and grenade launchers. They are also experts in explosives, wiretapping, counter-surveillance, lock-picking and GPS technology. They are able to monitor our office, home and cellular phone conversations. The original members of this cartel were trained in the United States by our government.”
Gonzales was one of several law enforcement officials who testified before the Committee on House International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation on what they see as a serious terrorist threat at the Mexican border.
These powerful criminal gangs would not think twice about bringing terrorists or even weapons of mass destruction into the U.S. if the price was right, the officials agreed. Some of them believe they have already arrived.
“We continue to believe that terrorists have expressed an interest and a desire to exploit the existing vulnerabilities in our border security to enter or attack the United States,” said Gonzales.
Some also believe that, for operational reasons, an undetected, illegal entry into the U.S. by al-Qaida agents, is preferable to a legal entry.
“For years we have seen individuals enter the country illegally,” Gonzales testified. “However, recently, we feel that many of these persons are no longer entering the country to look for legitimate employment. We are now seeing that many of these persons are members of ruthless and violent gangs. All of us are concerned that the border with Mexico is being used as the front door to this country and that terrorists are already in our back yard.”
He said many illegal immigrants from “countries of special interest” are attempting to blend in with the mostly Mexican population moving across the border.
“In May of this year my office received information that the cartels immediately across our border are planning on threatening or killing as many police officers as possible on the United States side,” he said. “This is being planned for the purpose of attempting to ‘scare us’ away from the border. It is very possible these cartels may form the nexus, or have already formed one, with members of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.”
Gonzales mentioned that officers along the border have found many telltale signs of terrorist traffic – including Middle East currency and clothing and a jacket with patches from countries where al-Qaida is known to operate.
While officials in the U.S. continue to debate whether or not Mexican illegal immigration is good for the economy, Gonzales warns that a dramatic change in migration patterns has occurred.
“These immigrants are not the same as what we saw two or three years ago,” he told members of Congress in a special hearing overlooking the border in Laredo, Texas. “Many of the immigrants have tattoos across their chest or back advertising what gang they belong to and demanding from the residents living along the border to use their phone or other necessities. They no longer ask for things but rather demand. These landowners, who have lived on their farms for decades, choose to move away from their properties.”
Gonzales also says his officers have witnessed armed incursions into the U.S. from what appears to be members of the Mexican military.
“More and more we are seeing armed individuals entering our country through our counties,” he said. “We feel that it is a matter of time before a shootout will occur. In the unfortunate event of a shootout, federal, state and local officers along the southwest border are not adequately armed. Compared to the ruthless and brazen and open behavior of the cartels we face, we are most certainly outmanned. In the event of a shootout, many casualties will likely occur. Federal, state and local officers all along the southwestern border are outgunned and outmanned.”
Gonzales gets no argument from his colleague, Rick Flores, sheriff of Webb County, Texas.
“As open as our borders are to narcotics and human smuggling, so well-placed are these channels of contraband, that in the blink of an eye, people who seek entry with treacherous motives can easily pose as those who simply want a better life,” he told the committee. “Our southern border is ripe for a terrorist pipeline – even assuming that not a single terrorist has infiltrated thus far, even assuming that we loack confirmation of Middle Eastern groups assimilating into the Mexican culture.”