By Gary Martin
Texas officials rebuffed President Barack Obama's claim that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure and told a congressional panel Wednesday that cartel-related crimes in this country are under-reported.
Steve McCraw, Texas Department of Public Safety director, said 22 murders, 24 assaults, 15 shootings and five kidnappings in Texas were linked to Mexican cartels since 2010.
"There are consequences when you don't secure the border," McCraw told the subcommittee. "There has been a proliferation of organized crime in Texas."
Republicans on the House Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight and investigations asked Texas officials to give a rebuttal to U.S. officials' claims that the 1,969-mile border is secure.
Amy Pope, a U.S. attorney general deputy chief of staff, said no "significant spike" in crime on the U.S. side of the Southwest border has been associated with the drug war raging in Mexico.
And a Homeland Security Department official said the crimes that are committed along the U.S. border are not like those seen by drug trafficking or the cartels in Mexico.
"We are not seeing the level of crime and overall viciousness that you are seeing in Mexico," said Grayling Williams, Department of Homeland Security director of counternarcotics enforcement.
But Republicans on the subcommittee questioned the Justice and Homeland Security officials about how crimes are classified.
GOP lawmakers said crimes like attempted murder and kidnappings should be considered "spillover violence."
"The border is not secure, and it has never been more violent or dangerous. Anyone who lives down there will tell you that," said Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, the subcommittee chairman.
Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said the U.S.-Mexico border in rural South Texas is a porous gateway for drugs and weapons flowing both ways - with cartels in control on both sides of the border.
"We have seen armed individuals coming into our country," Gonzalez said. "We have seen the very ruthless behavior of the cartels."
Border Democrats have bristled at GOP depictions of lawlessness.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, chided Republicans for creating a "sky is falling" hysteria that impacts businesses and families in U.S. cities along the border.
Cuellar said he supports more resources to strengthen the border, but "I'm just asking that we do this in a measured way."
The testimony came one day after Obama was in El Paso to tout an immigration reform plan and declared the border as secure as it has been for decades.
Obama mocked Republicans for insisting on unreachable thresholds of border security as a way to justify their opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.