EDINBURG, RGV – There’s a provision in the $800 million border security bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott that calls on DPS to study the possibility of southbound checkpoints.

However, implementing such checkpoints is a federal responsibility. Asked at a news conference in Edinburg on Tuesday what Congress was doing to stop cash and weapons reaching drug cartels in Mexico, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was a little vague.

“There is no doubt we need law enforcement tools to address the crisis of human smuggling and the crisis of drug smuggling, the crisis of transnational criminal cartels,” Cruz said, turning the issue back to interdiction of northbound illegal activity.

“One of the things I heard unfortunately about, that I hear every time I meet with the leadership of Border Patrol is the cartels have manpower along the Rio Grande river, they monitor what’s happening on a real time basis and the single best tool is boots on the ground and we should be utilizing every law enforcement tool. These gentlemen from the Border Patrol are our heroes and they are serving the nation. But, they need the resources to get the job done that they have been entrusted to carry out.”

Before holding his news conference, Cruz received a private briefing from Border Patrol officials at the agency’s regional headquarters in Edinburg. Also present was City of Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez and officials with DPS and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department.

The only civilian invited to attend the meeting was Othal Brand, Jr., president and general manager of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3. Brand was asked to attend because he works on the Rio Grande. Brand stood with Cruz at the press conference and later told the Rio Grande Guardian how disappointed he was that southbound inspections were not discussed at the private briefing.

“There was no discussion about southbound inspections at all and no Customs officials were present at the briefing. It seems like the whole discussion was about interdiction and defense on the river, aerostats, towers, cameras. Border Patrol loves the aerostats, they are great. But, the funding runs out in September,” Brand said.

Brand reiterated his support for southbound inspections. He said it is no good hoping Mexican law enforcement interdict the cash and weapons reaching the cartels because too many of their agencies have been corrupted.

“We know that 80 percent of all the guns and weapons captured from the drug cartels are from Texas. That is frightening. They did not get there from New Mexico, Arizona or California. Southbound checkpoints need to be an integral part of the overall border security plan but nobody in Congress is talking about it. It is a major concern,” Brand said.

Back in March, Brand testified before Congress on his experience of working on the Rio Grande. Click here to read his testimony. Brand said he reiterated many of the points made in his testimony at the private briefing and in a car ride with Cruz.

“They invited me to attend the briefing so that I could provide a perspective as someone who works on the river. Anyone who is interested in coming to the Valley and learning what is going on, I am there. We discussed the number of people crossing the river, now versus where we were last year. They have got all the numbers for 2014 but they do not have all the numbers for 2015. Obviously, it has gone down dramatically,” Brand said.

“I knew Senator had probably not read my testimony in Washington and so I reiterated a lot of that to him. The key people missing at the briefing, in addition to Customs, were the National Guard. This year Border Patrol has about 50 National Guard helping them. Last year they had a thousand. What they offered last year was something Border Patrol could not do because they are undermanned. They cannot just go out and sit.”

Brand built a boat ramp for Border Patrol at the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 pump station on the Rio Grande. Brand said he told the story how he went out one night on the river with Border Patrol. “I said would it be better if I turned the lights off at night time so they (the smugglers) do not see you going in and out of the water? They said, Mr. Brand, when we put in the water, whether we go up river or down river, it makes no difference. Every quarter or half mile there is a plain clothes guy with a telephone and they call and know exactly where we are. I said that is exactly what we need on this side. The cartels are smart. If it works for them it can work for us. And it did. We should have more National Guard. The police chief from Mission reiterated the drop in crime while the National Guard was here. The chief said crime dropped 18 percent in Mission. In McAllen it dropped nine percent.”

Brand also addressed the issue of whether the Valley is safe. He said there is a different story in the rural areas, as compared to the cities. “McAllen has 47 square miles and 137 officers. I said, that guy at the back there, from the Sheriff’s Department; they have the same number of guys for about 1,380 square miles of the county. The problem is outside of the city. It is a major problem in the rural areas and for the people that work on the river.”

In his remarks to reporters, Cruz said he is optimistic in the long term but pessimistic in the short term about immigration reform being passed by Congress. “We could pass immigration reform by focusing on areas of common ground. We need leadership,” Cruz said.

Calls to Mission Police Chief Dominguez for a comment for this story were not returned at press time.

Editor’s Note: In the main photo accompanying this story, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is pictured at a press conference held at Bert Odgen Fiesta Chevrolet, just across the street from the Border Patrol regional headquarters, on the corner of Trenton Road and Expressway 281 in Edinburg. Cruz asked Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 President and General Manager Othal Brand, Jr., to stand with him at the news conference.

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian has an undocumented immigrant research project underway with Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3.