By Nick Braune
The Texas Rio Grande Valley seems to have too many police. It is an aspect of the “militarization of the border,” which has been a growing long-term problem. Along with the border wall (constantly lengthening), and the immigration detention centers, and the federal checkpoints on highways leading out of the Valley, it often appears to residents that disproportionately more police are here than in other places.
A visitor to Harlingen (population about 60,000), for instance, may see city police, county police, a constable, TSTC college police (a separate department), airport police, State Police — yes, the author of this article was ticketed for a seat belt violation in downtown Harlingen by a Texas State Trooper — and of course visitors see Border Patrol vans frequently and occasional Customs vehicles.
Two recent news stories have indicated some annoyance at the ever-growing policing. McAllen’s newspaper, The Monitor, on August 18 ran a story with some criticism of “Operation Border Star,” a program implemented back in 2007, shifting State Troopers to the border. The Troopers’ labor organization itself has criticized the program, saying other parts of the state are being short-changed in law enforcement. A group’s spokesman told The Monitor, that they see “dissatisfaction from Troopers who feel they are not allowed to actually do their enforcement jobs…Rather, they just ride around maintaining a presence” in border town areas.
And this week the Mayor of Brownsville publicly protested that Governor Rick Perry is going too far with his new program. Perry has announced an expansion of Operation Border Star to include Rangers and Texas National Guardsmen being shifted to the border. These Ranger Recon Teams, according to the Monitor “will comprise Texas Rangers and Texas National Guard counter-drug forces, with support from the Operation Border Star Unified Command, including Texas sheriffs, Highway Patrol strike teams and Department of Public Safety aviation resources.” Perry argues that we need more militarization here because there are criminal elements in Mexico. Mayor Pat Ahumada has disagreed with Perry and has accused him of performing a political stunt which puts the Valley in a very bad light.
Ahumada is quoted in the Rio Grande Guardian: “It is unfortunate that this Governor is determined to bring troops to the Southwest border, [bolstering a] negative perception the national media has been eager to create because of isolated incidents in Mexico,” he said.
“Brownsville is safe and secured, with contingency plans…should violence spill into the U.S. side of the border. There is no need to panic or create hysteria based on isolated incidents caused by people in the drug trade.”
Although the Border Patrol doubled in size nationally in the last three years and most of its deployment is to the Mexico border region (with a rather in-your-face presence), Governor Perry said that he is forced to assign these Ranger Recon Teams because the federal government is not doing enough.
Few in the Valley are praising Perry’s vigilance.