It's the border, stupid
There is no homeland security without border security.
Americans sitting in the heartland may not be sweating over border issues but Webb County, Texas, Sheriff Rick Flores thinks they should be.
"Any sheriff, whether they are in Dallas, Iowa or even Nebraska, would much prefer that we squash a threat at the border than force them to deal with it after it gets through us," the sheriff told me in his office here.
"Smugglers have a ready-made infrastructure in place ... and they are just waiting to substitute terrorists and their cargoes for drugs if the price is right."
Flores and 15 other Lone Star sheriffs along the Mexican border banded together in May 2005 to address drug cartels warring over the control of narcotics, human smuggling and a natural offshoot -- the likelihood of a terrorist migration into the United States.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has taken the lead in funding border security, is impressed with the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, "first, by how they identified the scope and magnitude of the growing threat ... then by how they delivered a coordinated strategy to address those risks and threats."
It's intel-led policing at its best.
Talk of a terrorist pipeline is not paranoia. If criminals can smuggle drugs, gang members and illegals, what would stop them from importing members of al-Qaida or Hezbollah•
I recently got an on-the-ground look at what happens along the border. Armed with bulletproof vests, night-vision goggles and M-4s, Webb County deputies showed me the night life along the great divide.
The thick brush along the Rio Grande river could hide the population of an entire village across this rough landscape. We traveled all along the border, visiting several smuggling hot spots, including the quaint little subdivision of Rio Bravo. Dubbed "Little Baghdad," its substandard homes are surrounded by high, elaborate fences, with two or more late-model luxury SUVs parked in each yard.
"Gunfire is a way of life here -- see the fences• They are the mark of someone that has a connection ... drug connection ... cartels," said sheriff's Major Anthony Winterroth.
The deputies who escorted me are of Hispanic decent. For them, any immigration "reform" must take fully into account national security and the community's safety.
"Reasonable policy• Rational process• All well and good -- after security is addressed, and not before," Winterroth said. "We live, work, and raise our families here, right here, along the (Interstate 35) corridor. This corridor is the natural access that takes the good, bad and ugly from Venezuela to St. Louis and all points east and west.
"How can we reasonably say that al-Qaida or Hezbollah has not passed through here?"
The problem essentially is that terrorists get into the United States under the guise of being people looking for work," former CIA Director James Woolsey told me.
"For example, in the tri-border area" -- where Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay meet -- "Hezbollah has been a major presence for years and many of its people speak Spanish and might seem merely to be people looking for work."
There's a thought that doesn't come up in immigration debate: Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere.
Washington needs to take the racism card off the table so our leaders can have a reasonable debate about security. This is not about "economic refugees" crossing our borders. This is not an anti-Hispanic issue. It's not an anti-immigrant issue.
It's the border, stupid.
And border security is only as good as its weakest link; there are far too many weak links in our current policies.