Congress Urged to Deploy Troops on Mexico Border
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. On the grounds of the U.S. Capitol today, calls to deploy the military along the Mexican border. An incident along the border in Texas two weeks ago lead to the demands, which come as controversial border security legislation awaits action in the Senate. It's already cleared the House. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA, reporting:
Today on the west lawn of the Capitol several dozen members of the Minutemen Project, a self-styled border militia, rallied to demand a crackdown by Congress on illegal immigration across the Mexican border. Colorado House Republican Tom Tancredo, who's a crusader for immigration control, fired the crowd up, taking shots at President Bush.
Representative TOM TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): And I'm asking the President, commit the military to this border. We have a war.
(Soundbite of cheers)
Representative TANCREDO: We are facing, we are facing a military on the other side of the border, an armed military who periodically come into the United States of America armed, threatening our people, threatening the border patrol.
WELNA: Tancredo pointed to a January 23rd incident along the Mexican border in Hudspeth County, Texas. That incident involving sheriff's deputies chasing suspected drug traffickers was the focus of a Congressional hearing held yesterday. A videotape of the high-speed chase was shown at the hearing.
(Soundbite of police chase)
WELNA: The tape, shot by Hudspeth County sheriff's deputies, shows them in hot pursuit of three SUVs. Sheriff's deputy Isacheal Legorreta(ph) points to the panel how an olive drab colored Humvee filled with men in military style uniforms races from the Mexican side of the border to rescue one of the SUVs stuck in the Rio Grande.
Mr. ISACHEAL LEGORETTA (Sheriff's Deputy, Hudspeth County): You can see the military Humvee right there. There's personnel getting off of that one.
WELNA: The SUV was ultimately set afire after bales of marijuana were removed by the smugglers. Local law enforcement officials said it appeared the Mexican military was involved. But a State Department official, Elisabeth Whittaker, conveyed a very different conclusion reached by Mexican officials.
Ms. ELISABETH WHITTAKER (State Department): That the persons involved in the incursion were not members of the Mexican military, but rather known members of a Narco-trafficking ring.
WELNA: Another witness, U.S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar, said the incident's been sensationalized. But Texas House Republican Michael McCall, who chaired the hearing, disagreed.
Representative MICHAEL MCCALL (Republican, Texas): It just seems to be like it's getting worse, not better. And the cartels are getting more dangerous south of the border. And according to your written testimony there are accounts of criminal organizations wearing military style uniforms with high powered military issued weapons and vehicles, and their tactics are similar to military.
WELNA: Border Patrol Chief Aguilar agreed.
Mr. DAVID AGUILAR (Border Patrol Chief, United State): What is going on Mr. Chairman is that the cartels are in fact utilizing equipment firearms and personnel that have been trained in military tactics to facilitate their smuggling operations, especially in the areas where we are now operating in.
WELNA: Which is why T.J. Bonner, who heads an association of some 10,000 border patrol agents told the panel there should be troops on standby at the border to back up the patrol.
Mr. T.J. BONNER (President, National Border Patrol Council): If Mexico's military is going to come into the United States and fire shots or threaten our law enforcement agents, our law enforcement agents do not have the training, they don't have the weapons, they don't have the equipment to deal with that. Our military does.
WELNA: But with Congressional Republicans deeply divided over immigration legislation no congressionally ordered military deployment is likely any time soon. Colorado Republican Tancredo told today's rally it's up to President Bush to deploy troops to the border.
Representative TANCREDO: He has the power to do so. He has the ability to do so. He has the resources to do so. What the unfortunate dirty truth of the matter is, he has no desire to do so.
WELNA: President Bush has not, in fact, suggested any need for troops along the border. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.