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Two Mayors, Two Views on Using War-Zone Equipment on Border

Mayors of cities along the Texas-Mexico border intent on protecting the images of their communities are drawing vastly different conclusions about a proposal that would bring in equipment from overseas war zones to bolster border-security efforts.

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Mayors of cities along the Texas-Mexico border intent on protecting the images of their communities are drawing vastly different conclusions about a proposal that would bring in equipment from overseas war zones to bolster border-security efforts.

The Send Equipment for National Defense Act, written by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, would require that 10 percent of certain equipment returned from Iraq — specifically Humvees, night-vision equipment and unmanned aerial surveillance craft — be made available to state and local agencies for border-security operations.

The proposal has drawn criticism from Mayor John Cook of El Paso, who has vigorously disputed assertions that his city, which sits across the border from Ciudad Juárez, is affected by the same violence that has plagued northern Mexico.

“I would invite them to come to El Paso and we can look at the inventory of equipment that’s coming back from Iraq and they can tell me where they’d want to locate this,” Cook said. “To me, it’s just showing a whole lot of ignorance.”

The mayor said moving war zone equipment to the border would send the wrong signal to Mexico and potentially damage the robust symbiotic economic relationship between the two countries. The neighboring cities trade more than $70 billion annually, Cook said.

But Mayor Raul Salinas of Laredo, which has the nation’s largest inland port, said he welcomed the equipment and did not view it as an unnecessary militarization of the border.

“I would welcome any resources and equipment that would help us to be more vigilant along the border,” he said. “And if it’s equipment that would provide support, I would welcome it with open arms.”

Salinas has also had to fend off allegations that his city is as violent as its Mexican counterpart, Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas. In fact, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that El Paso and Laredo are among the safest cities of their respective sizes in the country.

Poe said there is no requirement that local and state agencies accept the equipment. He said six Humvees previously used by the military are already operating in six South Texas counties.

“They are better than chasing somebody in a Crown Victoria in some parts of Texas,” Poe said. “We got this equipment, it’s American equipment, and it was used to secure Iraq. Now why not use it to secure the southern border?”

Poe’s proposal is likely to draw bipartisan support from two other Texas congressmen, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin. During a committee hearing last week, the lawmakers pushed their own efforts to bring home war supplies, including equipment from Afghanistan.

Cuellar says recycling the equipment does not constitute militarizing the border, which he says is not in the country’s best interest.

“If you send personnel out there to militarize the border, that’s one thing,” he said. “But if you use taxpayers’ technology that has been used in one environment” and ask whether it can be used in a different environment like the border, “the answer is yes.”

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