Some Texas congressional members disagree with a recent report that characterized the Texas-Mexico border as a “war zone,” they do agree more needs to be done with southbound inspections at the region’s international bridges.
Earlier this month, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo and Michael McCaul, R-Houston, introduced and passed legislation through the House Homeland Security Committee that more than doubles the money for border southbound inspections.
The legislation calls for $15.4 million to go to border security teams that interdict southbound cash and weapons that usually end up in the hands of drug cartels.
“My priority is to fix the Department of Homeland Security and this authorization bill is a step in the direction,” McCaul said in a statement.
Last week, members of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, also known as BEST, found 50,000 rounds of ammunition and several assault rifles that were more than likely to be transported into Mexico. The ammunition and weapons were found inside a truck at a car lot not far from the B&M International Bridge. “BEST Teams have proven to be effective in cooperating with other law enforcement agencies in securing and protecting the southern border as well as stopping the illegal flow of firearms and money,” Cuellar said in a statement.
While southbound inspections are critical to border security, there are times when some of the lanes go unchecked, possibly because of budget constraints. Such cases occurred over the past couple weeks at the B&M International Bridge.
At a recent hearing before the U.S. Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Sylvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, and former chief of the U.S. Border Patrol McAllen Sector, said southbound checks are essential to ensure contraband is not going into Mexico.
“We need to focus resources on the ports of entry. … The problem today is that those ports of entry were designed exclusively to inspect traffic coming north,” Reyes said. “We’ve got to pay attention to remodeling those ports of entry so our BEST teams and others can have a safe enough environment to actually screen traffic going south to the ports of entry.”
In August, 21-year-old Mario Julian Martinez Bernache, a Mexican national, was taken into custody at the Gateway International Bridge after he tried to cross thousands of rounds of ammunition into Mexico, authorities said. His case is pending.
One month earlier, Perla Alejandra Meza, 18, of Brownsville, was apprehended after she tried to transport more than $92,000 into Mexico from the United States at the Gateway International Bridge without declaring the money, which she had stuffed inside a shampoo bottle and a can of Pringles. She pleaded guilty to the charge.
In June, Jeanette Barraza-Galindo, 33, a Mexican national, pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle more than $270,000 stuffed in teddy bears and pillows from the United States to Mexico, while crossing at the Hidalgo Port of Entry.
Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said he has been pushing of an increase in southbound inspections for at least three years. He said additional canine detections are needed to help find cash and weapons that are trying to be smuggled across the border.
“We have to recognize that we cannot be living with the same attitudes that we had 20-25 years ago and even 10 years ago, things are different,” Cascos said. “There are going to be some inconveniences but I think the inconvenience is going to be outweighed by the benefits.
“That is how the drug dealers are getting their money back. They are not going to Wal-Mart and buying a $3 million money order. They are transporting their cash through our ports of entry. Some of it gets caught. Most of it does not,” Cascos said.