Many people would say that Northern Virginia is an unlikely locale for a discussion of border security, but Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzales of Zapata County, Texas, would disagree.
Speaking to a POLICE-TREXPO East audience at Chantilly's Dulles Convention Center, Gonzales said the influence of Mexican drug cartels and human trafficking gangs is now nationwide. "Let me tell you something, the border is here in Chantilly, Va.," he told the audience. "Because the cartels are already here."
During the two-hour "U.S. Border Threats Briefing" panel discussion, Gonzales and two other border-area officers described what they deal with on a daily basis and how the chaos on the border affects every law enforcement officer in America. "We are at war," panel moderator Richard Valdemar said.
Valdemar, one of the nation's foremost authorities on criminal gangs, said that he believes there is the potential for an alliance of cartels, gangs, and Islamist terrorists that could cause great damage to the United States. He also pointed out that while many American policymakers are worried that the violence on the border might cross over into the U.S., they can't or won't acknowledge what's already happening.
"Spill over border violence has been happening a long time," Valdemar said. "Some 90 percent of outstanding warrants for murder in Los Angeles County are for illegal aliens."
Panel member Joe Preciado is one of the officers charged with stemming the flow of illegal aliens across the border. A Border Patrol intelligence officer in Yuma, Ariz., Preciado said it is not uncommon for officers in his sector to be attacked across the border with rocks and even bullets.
Sheriff Arvin West of Hudspeth County, Texas, told the audience that it can be hard for people who live outside of the border zone to understand the challenges faced by border officers. "We have 98 miles of border in Hudspeth County and 17 officers to cover the whole county," he explained.
West said that many of the people in his county live in a zone less than two miles from the border that locals call "Almost America." West has told ranchers and residents who live in "Almost America" to arm themselves. West said he told the local citizenry to: "Load your guns. Strap them on. Put them in your boots. Do what you have to do to protect yourselves."
With limited manpower, West says he can't protect the local citizens from the threats presented by the drug runners and the human traffickers or "coyotes." He showed photos of Mexican army vehicles that stalled out on this side of the Rio Grande and said the Mexican army has actually escorted drug loads into the United States.
Sheriff Gonzales said he had experienced similar Mexican military incursions into Zapata County, Texas. He even showed evidence that a Mexican military helicopter had performed reconaissance of his county for the drug traffickers.
Gonzales said he is frustrated by the lack of support he and other border sheriffs receive from federal officials. "We don't have border security. We have border insecurity and our country needs to be defended," he said.
Part of the problem, according to Gonzales, is that Department of Homeland Security secretaries Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano have not been truthful with the American public about the magnitude of the problem or its implications. He also countered the Obama administration's official line that the drug war in Mexico is caused by U.S. demand for drugs and fueled by American guns. "The guns are coming from Mexican military arsenals, from China, from Korea, and from Russia," he said. "The problem is not the U.S.; the problem is Mexico."