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own city. “I’ll speak with them and tell them there hasn’t been any spillover of violence into El Paso:’ he says, “and then they will turn around and report that there is. Mostly I feel like I’ve wasted my time He’s not the only border mayor who feels that frustration. In March, McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez got into an on-air tussle with CNN anchor Don Lemon. With archiital footage of masked soldiers and body bags in Sinaloa, Mexico-960 miles from McAllenrolling in the background, Lemon informed Cortez what was happening in his city. “I think it’s pretty close to a crisis, wouldn’t you agree?” Lemon asked. “The crisis is in Mexico,” Cortez replied. “It has not spilled over, Don, to mineto our city.” “Yes, I know you say that. I know you say that it hasn’t:’ Lemon said. “Since you’re the mayor of the city, you have to put the best foot forward. I know your city is affected, but you have to put a good face on it.” “I’m not putting my head in the sand,” Cortez insisted. “I’m just reporting to you as accurately as I can what has happened:’ It’s not that border mayors like Cook and Cortez aren’t deeply concerned. Even before the violence began to spike in Juarez last year, they had been asking Congress for more checkpoints to search for guns and cash heading south, and for more customs officials at U.S. ports of entry to stop drugs heading north. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that ports of entry need an additional $4.8 billion in infrastructure and 4,000 more agents to handle the flow of cars and trade. Border mayors and residents are all for that. They “For the past two years, we’ve been told that Mexicans are smuggling terrorists, taking our jobs, and selling us drugs, and that we are being invaded. And it worked. It totally freaked people out, and they reacted emotionally to an issue that could be solved rationally.” just don’t want their towns to be militarized. Skewed reports of spillover, they fear, are making that inevitable. When folks around El Paso and McAllen hear rhetoric about sending troops to the border, they can’t help remembering what happened in Redford, four hours east of El Paso, in 1997. With drug trafficking having been declared a “threat to national security:’ thousands of soldiers were dispatched to the border. Residents’ worst fears were realized when 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez was shot and killed by a Marine while tending his family’s herd of goats 100 yards from his home. Hernandez was the first American killed by U.S. military forces on native soil since the Kent State massacre in 1970. The Marine who shot him was not charged with murder, though the federal government eventually paid the Hernandez family $1.9 million to settle a wrongful death claim. Shortly after Hernandez’s death, military operations along the border were suspended. Almost a decade later, from June 2006 to July 2008, 6,000 National Guardsmen were sent to the border as part of Operation Jump Start. This time they were assisting Border Patrol officers with technical, logistical, and administrative work to free up the patrol to focus on detaining more illegal immigrants. Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster says the National Guard troops in his area spent most of those two years parked outside the city in Humvees, dressed in camo fatigues. “I came back from a trip and thought, ‘My God, what happened while I was away?”‘ he recalls. This time, at least, there were no murdersjust a couple of bored soldiers who got into trouble for shooting off rounds on the outskirts of town one night. Tired of living under virtual house arrest, mayors, county judges and business leaders formed the Texas Border Coalition in 2006, the first year of Operation Jump Start. The coalition has tried ever since to educate state and federal policymakers about what U.S. border towns are really experiencing and what they really need. They’ve spent a lot of time pleading their case in Washington. Its been uphill all the way. The coalition fought the 18-foot steel wall through their communities. Growing desperate as the wall went up, they hired the well-known lobbying firm Via Novo, run by former Bush staffers Matthew Dowd and Tucker Askew, to try to get Congress’ ear. “I don’t know if we wasted our time and money” Cook says. “They built the damn thing anyway.” NoW the coalition is trying to fend off calls for another National Guard “surge” along the border. It’s not easy, with fear-mongering about drug violence, spillover, and terror threats again reaching fever pitch. In a March 7 article in The Hill, a daily newspaper about congressional politics, Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona served up a vintage sampling of runaway rhetoric about Mexican drug cartels. “When you have … gangs and they have loose ties with alQaida, and then you have Iran not too far away from building a nuclear capability, nuclear terrorism may not be far of In February, Gov. Rick Perry flew to Washington to request that 1,000 National Guardsmen \(along with six helicopters In a subsequent congressional hearing, Homeland Security 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 17, 2009