One of the first priorities of any cop responding to an incident is to secure the scene and keep the situation from getting worse. We learn this early and suffer the consequences if we don't. As some of us have learned the hard way, failing to secure the perimeter inevitably results in a greater problem. This is so basic most of us just feel it's common sense. In fact, if a rookie officer fails to properly secure a scene, they might not make probation.
Our collective jurisdiction of responsibility—this country—is under assault, and it's truly a crime in progress. Entering this country illegally is just that—illegal. Yet we continue to deal with isolated portions of the problem and forget the public safety basic of securing the perimeter. Congress and the nation have struggled with the issue, and, just as this issue was headed to press, the Senate appears to have closed the door on the proposed immigration bill that would reportedly provide for heightened border security while dealing with the issue of the 12 20 million people currently in the country illegally.
In a previous editorial ( Call to Arms: Border Crisis, March 2006), I told you about the incident in Hudspeth County, Texas, where deputies and Texas DPS officers chased three SUVs laden with drugs to the Texas/Mexico border. The officers had to stand down when confronted by heavily armed men dressed in military fatigues. Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West told me he had no doubt the subjects were members of the Mexican military, and his 12 deputies were incapable of safeguarding the 5,000 square miles of open land that sits next to Mexico. West testified before Congress, and, God bless him, he spoke clearly, saying our open border has become a gateway for illegal activities.
Pima County, Ariz., has the longest stretch of shared border with Mexico in the United States. Violent crime has become so bad that one official called it a war zone. After numerous shootings, two of which involved high-power rifles and resulted in the deaths of five people, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik formed a special unit to focus on what he termed a brand new problem of gigantic proportions when it comes to safety.
I talked with Lieutenant Juan Gonzalez who works for the police department in Pharr, Texas, a border town. Gonzalez had previously told me of the challenges faced at the border, and now he said it s getting much worse. Homicides, kidnappings, weapons smuggling, home invasions and dangerous pursuits are all on the rise. Officer-involved shootings in the area are now occurring twice a month, whereas before 2005 they were unheard of.
The primary reason the recent immigration bill failed was the people of this country said they didn t believe the promises of border enforcement; they had heard this rhetoric before. In 1986, President Reagan brokered a deal with Congress that is eerily similar to the recent bill s plan. Basically, amnesty was granted with a promise that the border would be secured. Well, somehow we never got around to securing the border. Just like any major incident, we must get control of the perimeter and keep the situation from getting worse before we start deciding who gets to stay and who has to leave.
Across this country, we are seeing public resources police, fire, EMS, schools, hospitals, social services struggling to meet the needs of those seeking a better life in the United States. I m not insensitive to their plight, but resources can only be stretched so far before collapsing. And, let me be really clear this is not an issue of race. It s an issue of national security in the areas of safety, health and basic economic survival.
You might feel this issue is primarily a border-state problem, but it affects all of us. The border has remained open too long, and we re seeing the impact of powerful gangs and drug cartels across our country. If you haven t seen a change, you will. According to Gonzalez, The drugs, guns and gangs we see going through here end up in communities throughout this country. We all want our kids and our communities to be safe, but this isn t stopping.
Congress thinks they re off the hook, and they re already looking forward to the next election. However, we must take a stand. Laws already exist that will address this problem, and authorization is already in place for an effective border fence it just needs to be built. We must secure our perimeter before the situation gets any worse. Take a stand alongside fellow officers who are struggling to deal with illegal immigration. Tell your legislator you want a secure border. Send an e-mail or make a phone call today. To find a link to your legislator s e-mail address, go to www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected (it s case sensitive).
Dale Stockton, Editor