Alert Tells Of Mexican Border Hit Men
Texas sheriffs, meeting to discuss border issues Thursday, got another reminder of just how dangerous the border areas of their state have become. A federal safety alert issued earlier this week warned that nine illegal immigrants in the Big Bend area of Texas have hired Mexican hit men to assassinate U.S. law-enforcement officers.

News of the threat came in a confidential Homeland Security safety alert, which the Daily Bulletin obtained. The intelligence officer who authored the alert said the information came from a reliable source.

The "For Official Office Use Only'' memorandum was released to law-enforcement officials Monday, according to the alert.

"We take it seriously, but we have to take it alone because we can't get the Department of Homeland Security to back us,'' said Sheriff Arvin West, with the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department, who attended the sheriffs' meeting in El Paso. "I'd like for the general public to pray for us.''

The alert said that on March 15 and 17, a Marfa sector intelligence unit received information that the nine illegal immigrants lived in the remote Terlingua/Study Butte area, just west of Big Bend National Park along the Texas border.

Six of the nine were identified by an informant, but all are being sought by officers, said a law-enforcement official under condition of anonymity.

According to the alert: "The identified subjects said that the reason for the threat is to make a statement ‘that it is dangerous' for law-enforcement officers working in the area.''

The alert warned that "agents and all law-enforcement officers patrolling the Terlingua, Lajitas and Big Bend area should be made aware of the threat.''

Nearly 50 Texas sheriffs and deputy sheriffs shared this and other confidential law-enforcement information Thursday in preparation for today's meeting with sheriffs' officials from all 24 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of the Texas Sheriff's Border Association, an organization of 16 Texas border sheriff's departments that operate as a second line of defense along the border, are planning to expand their organization in an attempt to force the federal government to take control of what "is an out of control'' situation.

"Initially it was just us -- the Texas sheriffs,'' said El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego, who celebrated his 50th year in law-enforcement Thursday. "But this is a serious national security issue and it involves everyone. We are going to work together with sheriffs from as far away as California to ensure the safety of our borders.

"We are also going to work together toward the passage of the border security bill which also requires the federal government to take responsibility for the U.S. borders.''

The Texas group is expected to discuss similar issues with other sheriffs at today's meeting. The meeting is expected to be the first step in the formation of a Southern Border Coalition -- which will include the 24 border counties -- to address growing violence along the border.

"If we don't control it now, we may be looking at something far worse in the future,'' said Terry Crawford, from Uvalde County, which is 25 miles from the border and west of San Antonio.

Crawford said his county is a main thoroughfare for drug traffickers and migrants who make it across the border. "Hopefully we'll make enough noise that the federal government will do something about these drug traffickers and protect the people living on both sides of the border,'' he said.

Information obtained by the Daily Bulletin from members of the coalition suggests that growing corruption and deadly battles fought by narcotics traffickers on the south side is spilling across the border.

In particular, this is happening in Webb County, which is across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, where violence and death have grown to almost unbearable numbers, said Sheriff Rick Flores.

The violence is spilling into Laredo, Texas, where a number of murders in his county over the past year may be attributed to the Zetas, he said. The Zetas are former elite Mexican anti-drug agents who joined the Gulf Cartel, one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations along the border.

Since January, 55 people have been murdered in Nuevo Laredo. Many of them were tortured, and almost all the cases lead back to the drug cartels, Flores said.

If the rate of murders in Nuevo Laredo continues at the same rate since January, Flores said, the number of deaths is expected to surpass 200 before the end of the year. Last year there were 176 murders.

Continuing threats to news organizations inside Mexico and along the border have forced Mexican editors to bar reporters from covering stories, Flores said. Some reporters on the U.S. side of the border are also fearful of retaliation from the Mexican cartels.

The Gulf Cartel is a "bottomless pit'' of money in Nuevo Laredo with infinite resources that stretch far into the United States, Flores added.

"I'm really worried about who the narcotraffickers are smuggling into the United States,'' Flores said. "Our intelligence suggests that for the right price, the cartels could be bringing in people with terrorists ties into this country. This is a national security issue through and through.''

On Thursday, Nuevo Laredo Police Chief Omar Pimentel, 38, resigned. He signed a letter of resignation Wednesday, just hours after police found three charred bodies dumped by the side of a road leading into the city, said West, who received the information along with other sheriffs on Thursday.

"I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did,'' West said. "In fact, I'm surprised he came out alive. Once again, this is an example of the growing corruption in Mexico. And it is because of the typical denial from both governments to step in and do what's right.''