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Hudspeth County law enforcement rendezvous with Border Patrol agents. comfortable. I’m getting too old for cowboy boots.” West is 43. Half-Mexican, he jokes about growing up a “GMC,” or “GringoMexican combo:’ when Texas shops still displayed signs that said, “No dogs, no Mexicans.” We set off south for the Rio Grande. The river has made West more than just a small-town sheriff. With 3,300 residents, his county straddles 98 miles of the Rio Grande. At 4,572 square miles, Hudspeth is twice the size of Delaware. “At least 98 percent of what I deal with is drug trafficking:’ he says. “If you took away the border, my county would be like Mayberry. We’d be spending our time taking cats off the roof” Since Sept. ii, 2001, border counties like Hudspeth have played an outsized role in the contentious debates over border security and immigration reform. West and the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, which formed in 2005 and which he chairs, have helped shape those debates. The border sheriffs’ congressional testimony has provided great fodder to many an anti-immigration politician. Their firsthand accounts of battling narcos and nabbing suspected terrorists have made them darlings of cable news. Members of Congress call on them frequently to guide tours for political delegations and media, elaborating on border dangers and the dire need for more equipment, money and, as the sheriffs often put it, “boots on the ground.” In January 2006, Hudspeth County hit the headlines when West’s deputies faced off with what he describes as “members of the Mexican army” protecting three Cadillac Escalades filled with bales of marijuana. No shots were fired. The alleged drug dealers and soldiers fled back to Mexico. After West held a press conference the next morning at the county courthouse, the story went viral. The right-wing blogosphere, and radio and cable shows picked up the “Mexican military invasion” and galloped with it. West breaks off from the Mexican army story as he rolls, slowly, toward some cattle blocking the dirt road. They get the hint and begin to mosey across as West radios his deputies: “Watch those heifers when you get up to the draw. They’re real gentle and don’t want to move off the road.” Back to the Mexican military: During his deputies’ showdown with the narcos, West had been on a plane back from Houston. A few days later, the Mexican consul from El Paso arrived in Hudspeth County. The consul wouldn’t discuss the matter with a local sheriff, according to West. “The federal government doesn’t need to answer to local government:’ West says, mimicking the consul with a hoity-toity Spanish accent. “Well, I told him the next time one of your immigrants is sick or dying, you can call the federal government then.” West never made good on that threat. Today, his people are looking for a Mexican man in his late 5os. He is a chronic alcoholic in poor health, the men traveling with him had told the Border Patrol after their apprehension. They said the man finished the remnants of a tequila bottle for breakfast and drank several beers before crossing the Rio Grande. By the time the group reached Hudspeth County, the man was doubled over and vomiting. “Go ahead and I’ll catch up:’ he told them. OCTOBER 30, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 11