It was just another day in south Texas as gunfire erupted in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and warnings went out to people on both sides of the border. I had just landed in Laredo and was briefed by local law enforcement of a shootout between the drug cartels and the Mexican military that had taken place right across the border from the local grocery store in the United States. Things like this are so commonplace that they rarely even make the local news anymore. It was just another day on the Texas border.
Mexico’s northeastern border with Texas has taken center stage in the deadly turf wars between the narco-terrorists vying for control and an out-gunned and out-manned Mexican military trying to salvage what is left of law and order. Unfortunately, good folks on both side of the border are caught in the deadly crossfire.
The recent murder of David Hartley on Falcon Lake prompted the national news to shed some light on the war along our southern border, albeit minimally. Mr. Hartley’s body remains missing, and those responsible for his murder remain at large. As the news moves on to the next story, the violence on our border rages on, and our country is no safer now than it was before.
I arrived at Falcon Lake three weeks to the day of the Hartley murder. As state and local law enforcement, wearing bulletproof vests, retraced the route along the lake that Tiffany Hartley took as she frantically raced back to the shore for help, there wasn’t another person on the entire lake. No fishermen, no boaters, and certainly no other law enforcement operatives. As I surveyed the massive lake by air, it was eerily quiet. The 87,000-acre lake, with 432 total miles of shoreline, was wide open for business—illegal business.
The local sheriffs do the best they can, given the scant resources they have. But they simply cannot do their job of protecting their counties while doing the federal government’s job of protecting the border. Like our sheriffs, our game wardens have added responsibilities and risks as well. The days of friendly fishing license checks on the lake have been replaced with bulletproof vests and M-16 semiautomatic rifles.
I have been from one end of the Texas border to the other, and every time I go down there I shake my head in disbelief of what has become of our border. As we drove through these little border towns, signs for Friday night’s football game lined the fences, and I would almost forget that more than 28,000 people had been brutally murdered in Mexico’s drug war just yards away.
Our countries are not divided by miles, fences, or even posted welcome signs. In some places, the Rio Grande River can be accurately measured in yards. Unlike those in other states, Texas landowners can own property right up to the river’s banks. Mexico is literally a stone’s throw away from residential and business communities, and stray bullets and crime, like the drug cartels, don’t recognize international borders.
Border towns are unique, and Texas border towns have their own personalities like no others. For some people they are lyrics in country songs, backdrops for movies and stories of college days that are forever gone. But for the folks who live there, it’s their home: It’s all they have ever known. Like almost every local Texas sheriff along the border, they all grew up there. As a matter of fact, they grew up together in the same neighborhoods, and so did their parents and their grandparents. But now their way of life, their pursuit of happiness, is being threatened by uncontrolled violence on both sides of the border.
As we passed the Wal-Mart in Rio Grande City, the deputy with us told me that his cousin had been targeted for her car last year at Christmas time. You see, the drug cartels have wish lists too. But instead of doing their shopping inside the store, they take to carjacking in parking lots on our side of the border. His cousin was kidnapped at gunpoint and driven across the border. Fortunately, authorities on both sides of the border responded quickly, and she was rescued, but not before she was taken across the border. Others have not been so lucky.
He told of another similar instance in which a local judge and her daughter were kidnapped and taken to Mexico. They were rescued after a chase, but not before she was thrown from her car. She later died from complications from her injuries. These things are happening here in our country, on our side of the border. The violence is not on the brink of spilling over: It’s been flooding in for years, and now we are on the brink of disaster.
The United States government has to do more. I have filed legislation requiring 10,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to the border at the request of a state governor. The current deployment of 250 troops is woefully inadequate. The Texas-Mexico border is 1,256 miles long. That’s farther than the distance between New York and New Orleans.
The lack of urgency in responding to the Hartley murder is just one more example of our government’s being on the wrong side of the border war. The State Department’s stance on the issue is that it will help in the investigation if asked to do so—that is just the politically expedient way of saying that they are not planning to do anything.
As the headlines of David Hartley’s murder are replaced with the latest antics of celebrity nobodies and professional reality-show idiots, the federal government will continue to be a day late and dollar short when it comes to border security. The rest of the country will move on, and until another innocent American is gunned down on a slow national news day, nothing more will be said or done. Like most everything with the federal government, at the end of the day there is usually more said than done. To them, it’s just another day on the Texas border.
And that’s just the way it is.