The lawmen chased the truck along the river, with a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter swooping overhead and Texas game wardens roaring down the Rio Grande in boats, state authorities said. In minutes, the traffickers had ditched the truck in the muddy water and were rafting the dope back to Mexico.
Then the shooting started.
Alone among his Republican rivals running for president, the Texas governor has a small army at his disposal. Over the past three years, he has deployed it along his southern flank in a secretive, military-style campaign that his supporters deem absolutely necessary and successful and that his critics call an overzealous, expensive and mostly ineffective political stunt.
A hawk when it comes to Mexican cartels, Perry said in New Hampshire this month that as president he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug violence there and stop it from spilling into the United States.
The June incident along the Rio Grande was typical of Perry’s border security campaign: a lot of swagger, with mixed results. The initial news release said the Texas Rangers team came “under heavy fire” by members of the Gulf cartel, though officials later said it was “four to six shots.”
The Texas Rangers and their multi-agency task force, which included U.S. Border Patrol agents, returned fire — big time — lighting up the Mexican riverbank with 300 rounds.
“You shoot a police officer, you’re going to get shot back at,” said Steven McCraw, Perry’s homeland security chief and director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The only reason details of the operation became public — they are usually kept under wraps — was because of the shots fired. The dawn chase along the river resulted in no arrests, no prosecutions and no drugs seized on the U.S. side. Texas officials say three traffickers may have been wounded, but nobody is really sure, because all of them escaped.
Focus on security
Warning that spillover violence by ruthless Mexican drug smuggling gangs threatens Texas — a claim that some leaders along the border say is sensational hogwash — Perry has made border security a centerpiece of his three terms in office, far more than other Southwest governors.
Although Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) pushed ahead with a law that requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, Perry has focused more on drug trafficking, stolen vehicles and criminal gangs than on chasing illegal immigrants.
Since 2008, with the support of the Republican-dominated Texas legislature and more than $400 million in taxpayer funds, Perry has pressed forward on his own version of a surge — called Operation Border Star — paying millions for equipment, weapons and the overtime salaries for sheriff’s deputies and local police to mount operations aimed at drug seizures and gang members.