Starr Co. ~neglected TM in Napolitano visit

The border between Starr County and Mexico stretches for more than 50 miles.

It is sparsely populated, making it an ideal route for drug and human smuggling, Alfredo knows this all too well.

"During the day where we are at, we don TMt see anything, he said. But at night, who TMs going to stick around to see what TMs going on there?

Alfredo owns a piece of land bordering the river in Rio Grande City, and farms it along with his son, cultivating melons.

Alfredo is not his real name, he asked Action 4 News to hide his real identity out of fear.

"When we are out at the river and we hear that it TMs getting dangerous, we can count on Border Patrol to protect us, he said.

Alredo fears the growing presence of drug and human smugglers on his land. He said he is comforted by the presence of Border Patrol and the Rio Grande City Police Department.

"I don't know that I'd call it spillover, Police Chief Dutch Piper told Action 4 News. But we do have a big increase in drug trafficking and human trafficking."

Chief Piper said chases have become increasingly frequent along the streets of Rio Grande City.

On one recent occasion two weeks ago, a driver towing a horse trailer led officers on a chase across the city.

He was hauling more than 2500 pounds of marijuana inside.

"In the last six months, we've had 28,000 pounds of marijuana that were seized versus a lot less before," he added.

According to Piper, police average two chases per week, with smugglers carrying between 250 to 2500 pounds of marijuana in a single load.

The most recent chase took place over the weekend, he said. A 19-year-old driver led police throughout the city, even driving against traffic in the city TMs one way streets.

He eventually crashed into the city hall sign, directly in front of the police headquarters.

Officers arrested the driver and seized 250 pounds of marijuana.

For all the time and effort it takes to track down smugglers, Chief Piper said they are stretched thin.

"We need more resources, he added. We need monies to help our community, to fight crime and also the drug trafficking that comes through here."

But Rio Grande City is not alone.

Dozens of smaller police departments along the border must also balance public safety, with tracking down drug and human smugglers.

Piper said that balance is harder to achieve with an increase in activity along the border, fueled by the ever-profitable drug trade.

To understand the complex issues affecting South Texas, the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano toured parts of the Valley.

But her visit sparked disappointment.

"I wasn't informed, I wasn't called, I wasn't told, I wasn't invited, Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villareal said. If they want a regional solution to this they need a regional approach."

Villareal said the city and Starr County are at the forefront of border security.

But during her visit, Napolitano toured the Pharr International Bridge, took aerial tours along the river, and met with local leaders, but none from Starr County.

"Starr County/Rio Grande City should be represented and as often happens, we don't get that interest for whatever reason," Mayor Villareal said. "We need the money to hire more officers, to hire more border patrol, to put them in places in a neighborhood and community."

Chief Piper said they also need to be better equipped.

"We do have weapons, but I know the bad guys have quite an assortment, and we'd like to be close to that," he said.

The need in Rio Grande City is growing as much as the city.

Chief Piper added that they will annex nearly two and a half miles of land in each direction.

His force of 28 men, including him, is greatly strained, and he said he would like to have at least 10 more officers.

Starr County Sheriff Rene Fuentes was invited to meet with Secretary Napolitano and other Valley sheriff's, but he said he was not able to attend because of previous engagements.

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