Saturday, March 13, 2010

Amid worsening violence in Reynosa, Gonzales announces border security hearing

This has become an increasingly severe issue. Here's the link to stay connected on updates for the Border & Intergovernmental Affairs hearings.


By Steve Taylor | Rio Grande Guardian

McALLEN, March 12 - The chairs of two state House Committees have announced a joint hearing to examine the security of Texas' international border and the state's ability to protect its residents from violence in Mexico.

State Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, chairs the Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs and state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, chairs the Committee on Public Safety.

“The growing violence occurring between the drug cartels in Mexico is extremely concerning and Speaker Joe Straus has specifically charged my committee, along with Chairman Merritt's Public Safety Committee, to study Texas' preparedness to address those drug-related crimes,” Gonzales said, in a news release issued Friday.

“We need to hear from our state law enforcement officers and other agencies on what is being done to keep our residents safe from the drug cartels fighting in Mexico.”

A specific date has yet to be announced for the hearing. However, Gonzales told the Guardian on Thursday it will happen “soon” and it is likely to be held in the Rio Grande Valley.

Gonzales said she and Merritt have been planning to hold their joint interim hearing in McAllen since their joint charge was issued by Straus last November. However, the hearing has been pending due to the availability of committee members' schedules.

When Straus announced his charges for the interim, he asked Gonzales and Merritt to have their committees “evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas-Mexico border.”

The findings from the hearing will be presented to the Legislature at the start of the 2011 legislative session.

The announcement of a joint hearing to discuss border security comes amid a worsening situation in Reynosa, just across the border from McAllen. Three people died in a gun battle between rival drug cartels in the city earlier this week. On Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate warned U.S. citizens not to travel on the major highways from Reynosa to Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey. Last week, the Department of Public Safety warned students on Spring Break not to travel to border cities in Mexico.

On Monday, Alfredo Corchado, a veteran border reporter for the Dallas Morning News, reported that at least eight journalists have been abducted in Reynosa. “One died after a severe beating, according to reports that could not be independently verified,” Corchado wrote. “Two were released by their captors. The rest are missing.”

“A radio reporter, Jorge Rabago, died late last week after a severe beating,” Corchado reported. “The five missing journalists are a reporter from El Mañana, the largest news organization in the area; a freelance photographer from La Tarde, the afternoon edition of El Mañana; two journalists from an online service, and a TV cameraman, according to editors and reporters who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing daily threats,” Corchado reported.

Corchado quoted award-winning border reporter Jorge Luis Sierra, who was born and raised in Mexico City but now edits and publishes the McAllen Times. “We are under a virtual gag order. We live in silence,” Sierra said.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that eight journalists had gone missing in Reynosa over the past two weeks. The agency cited the Inter-American Press Association. Of the eight, one had died and two were released.

The joint hearing between Gonzales’ and Merritt’s committees will not be the only one to look at the issue of border security. On Thursday, state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, said his Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness would hold two hearings on border security, one in Austin on March 30 and one in McAllen on May 17.

Peña’s committee is charged with looking at the state's preparedness level for natural disasters and terrorist activity. Gonzales pointed out that the reported drug violence in Mexico is recognized as being financially motivated and has not been classified as an act of terrorism against the state of Texas.

“I welcome the feedback of other lawmakers on the issues that the Speaker asked my committee to study, especially one as crucial and close to home as border security,” Gonzales said.

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