McALLEN, RGV – McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez on Monday made the case for southbound inspections and tighter controls to stop weapons and ammunition from the U.S. reaching Mexican drug cartels.

Speaking at an immigration reform debate, Rodriguez said a “state police officer should be placed where weapons and ammunition are sold.” He also said “gun shows should be more strictly regulated” because “weapons and ammunition are at the root of violence in the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico.”

Rodriguez was one of six “experts” on a panel assembled by Futuro McAllen. The others were Texas Border Coalition leaders J.D. Salinas and Monica Weisberg-Stewart, the Rev. Tim Moore, lead pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas, and legislative liaison to the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention, Darrell Renfrow, of the Reynosa Maquila Association (INDEX Reynosa), and John McClung, of the Texas International Produce Association. The debate was titled, Border, Business & Badges, and was held at the McAllen Public Library Auditorium.

McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez. (File photo)
McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez. (File photo)

“We are not a lawless frontier. Spillover does not mean an invasion,” Rodriguez argued. “The threat is not a visible army of criminals. The threat is invisible. The threat is drug trafficking money that creeps, infiltrates and corrupts our communities. The threat is the crimes that drug trafficking money causes. The threat is the criminals that drug trafficking money buys.”

Among the suggestions Rodriguez made at the debate were to “study, propose and pass legislation that more tightly controls the sale, resale, purchase, multiple purchases, possession and transportation of the weapons and ammunition that are at the root of violence here and in Mexico.” He also said Texas should “place a state police officer at every place of sale” and “regulate gun shows and sales.”

“Approximately 70 percent of murders in Texas are committed by firearms. Few contest that over 90 percent of the weapons and ammunition in Mexico are U.S. made. Few contest that those weapons and ammunition have been illegally exported to Mexico. The very violence at the center of Mexico’s turbulence is at the hands of these weapons and ammunition. The very violence we decry is at the hands of weapons and ammunition made here and sold here,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez also suggested the U.S. controls its borders outbound. “I suggest we implement effective and efficient southbound inspections designed to deter exportation of guns and ammunition, stolen property and fugitives. I suggest that effective means 24/7/365.”

Rodriguez was dismissive of the border walls the federal government erected. “We have built virtual fences; however, those fences have great big holes in them: the ports of exit.”

Rodriguez ran through other proposals:

“Let’s control our borders outbound. Let’s deter and stop the unlawful exportation of guns and ammunition. Let’s stop the daily southbound unimpeded flow of our citizens’ stolen vehicles and stolen property.

“Let’s stop the daily southbound unimpeded flow of murderers, rapists, sex offenders and violent offenders. It is time for Texas to step up to this problem.”

Rodriguez called for “calm, cool and collected” law enforcement policy.

“Ask me, would I rather have the assistance of 500 troops or 50 investigators. I’d say 50 investigators. The real threat is illicit money and its ability to criminalize persons and systems here.

“We need coordinated, regionalized law enforcement to help to identify and to act against violent offenders and criminal organizations. We should move expeditiously to identify and act in violent crimes. We should move against illicit funds and assets associated with criminal organizations.”

Earlier in his remarks, Rodriguez said that, like it or not, border security is looked at through the prism of the 9/11 and that those terrorist attacks brought about the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. This agency has made the enforcement of immigration laws one of its top priorities, he said. In turn, Rodriguez argued, immigration has come to mean one thing, border security, and this, in turn, has come to mean one thing, the U.S.-Mexico Border.

“As a U.S. city on the U.S.-Mexico border, we have come to see the effect of this narrowly focused policy. All things ‘border’ are now viewed and responded to, by all of us, through the Homeland Security lens created by 9-1-1. It has become convenient to tie many things to the border,” Rodriguez said.

“Do some of these crimes have a drug related nexus? Yes. Therefore, yes, it is possible to have more crime today. But, when we look at the border situation through the 9-1-1 lens, we fail to act in a manner that is responsive the realities and that is responsible to our communities.”

However, Rodriguez continued, that is not to say resources are not needed to assist in the daily battle against crimes with a Mexico nexus. “What we ask for is action that is responsive to the realities of the situation. What we ask is for is action without the rhetoric and without the sound bites.”

In the context of immigration reform, Rodriguez asked that local law enforcement not be “burdened” with immigration responsibilities. He said such a move would place communities at greater public safety risk. “These propositions will tie up state (local) peace officers, remove them from their ability to respond to calls-for-service, and seriously delay response time to our citizen’s requests for police assistance in matters that include, life, death and property,” Rodriguez said.

Asking local law enforcement to work on immigration issues fails to address the threats that the community faces, Rodriguez argued. “Consider that the Texas Code of Criminal procedure requires every peace officer to act to preserve the peace, interfere without a warrant to prevent or suppress crime and to arrest offenders in every case where the officer is authorized by law. Therefore, state (local) peace officers will be duty-bound to act if any legislative effort makes unlawful (immigration) entry a state violation,” Rodriguez said.

The state criminal justice system does not have the arrest (police officers), prosecutorial, detention, or the judicial or corrections infrastructure to make such an offense a state offense, the police chief said.

“We are fortunate to live in a country where law enforcement personnel, supported by the entire infrastructure that makes such policing possible in this country, can respond to a person’s call-for-service, provide that person immediate assistance and then extend to that person an open ended commitment to complete that call-for-service without a requisite to determine that person’s status before rendering service,” Rodriguez said.

“Policing at the local level is the nearest form of public safety available to members of our communities.   Nothing should occur to make that service more distant. Attempts to require local police officers to determine a person’s status will make our communities less safe and make local police services more distant. In the context of immigration issues, that should remain a federal issue and a federal responsibility.”

Rodriguez said that after 9/11, the U.S. placed more emphasis on intelligence and proactive investigations. He said the border situation requires the same response. “We owe Texas and we owe our border communities, responsible action,” he said.