Advocate editorial board opinion: Where's a fed when you need one?

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 5, 2011 at 6:05 a.m.

We are reminded of the 19 illegal immigrants who lost their lives in one of the worst human trafficking incidents near Chubby's on U.S. Highway 77 South. The year was 2003.

We think those deaths were a wake-up call to the federal government that trafficking is a serious crime happening along our corridors and on the border with Mexico.

To this day, human and drug trafficking have continued at a pretty regular pace in our area and others in South Texas. The traffickers now avoid main highways and take back roads where few law enforcement officers patrol. This week was testament to this assessment, when sheriff's deputies captured three traffickers and are pursuing others near Nursery, 15 miles north of Victoria. Two of the Victoria County deputies were working overtime with funds coming from a federal program called Border Star.

So the law enforcement personnel and equipment mainly used to deter this activity are local sheriff's departments. And the expense and depletion of resources falls on the backs of our sheriffs and ultimately become a burden for taxpayers.

We ask this: Where are the feds? Do we need more federal officers to cover trafficking efficiently? If the feds can't provide law enforcement, can local sheriff's offices receive more federal dollars to cover the expense?

We need more federal officers to address trafficking - humans and drugs. This kind of crime falls in the jurisdiction of a matrix of federal agencies under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services and others. But we seldom hear about interdiction of trafficking by these agencies in our area.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor who serves on the National Sheriff's Association, as well as the complementary state sheriff's association in legislative governance, said the whole problem is that the federal government does not look at the big picture.

"Doesn't seem that the left knows what the right is doing," O'Connor said. "The White House is deceiving. We are doing their job on a daily basis."

He said agents on the border have the idea that if illegal immigrants and smugglers get by them, then they are free to go on.

"They've lost their peripheral vision. They have tunnel vision. Well, guess what? Once they've crossed the border, they come to us. They're all going to Houston through us," O'Connor said.

"All we are asking is to pay attention. Look at the big picture. Be more strategic."

We agree. To address the problem of trafficking, all of South Texas has to be considered, not just the border.

But O'Connor is not getting more personnel or significant funding. To date, he said his office has received $2 million in assistance.

He recently, after seven years of knocking on the door, was awarded a federal grant.

"This is the first grant we've had of any kind - it's from Operation Stone Garden," he said. While funding is minimal for his office, O'Connor pointed out that the traffickers "earn $30 billion a year per cartel."

"I feel like Sheriff (Rodney) Dangerfield. No respect," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said that's why he will pursue making the feds accountable.

We agree. Federal law enforcement agencies should not only look at the problem in a holistic manner, but these agencies should see to their allotted jobs. Or the feds should compensate and fund our sheriff's office.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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