House Dem leader pushes Obama for more border security

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is calling on the Obama administration to toughen surveillance along the Texas-Mexico border in order to fight crime and illegal immigration.

Cuellar, a Blue Dog member and a new face to Democratic leadership this Congress, is urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to place two additional drone aircraft — known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) — in Texas rather than in other border states.

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"Texas Rangers and Texas Department of Public Safety have brought to our attention that the absence of [UAVs] based along the border has already hindered law enforcement operations," Cuellar wrote in a Monday letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. "Both federal and state law enforcement rely on the critical surveillance these systems provide and having a [UAV] readily available along the border is crucial to their mission."

Texas GOP Reps. Michael McCaul and Blake Farenthold joined Cuellar on the letter. The three lawmakers — all members of the House Homeland Security Committee — are requesting delivery of the aircraft by year’s end.

The letter arrives amid an escalation of violent crime on the Mexican border, fueled largely by the powerful cartels catering to America's substantial appetite for illegal drugs. The drug wars have claimed the lives of more than 30,000 Mexicans since 2006. Some of the crime has spilled into the U.S., prompting many on Capitol Hill to urge DHS to take additional steps to seal the border.

A 2010 appropriations bill includes funding for two additional UAVs along the southern border, without specifying where those vehicles will be stationed. Arizona already has three such vehicles, McCaul and Farenthold claim, while Texas has only one — a unit technically designated for patrolling the Gulf Coast, they said.

The lawmakers argue the discrepancy is unfair because the Texas-Mexico border, at roughly 1,241 miles, is more than three times the length of the Arizona-Mexico border, which is about 373 miles.

"Texas needs more resources and we need them in close proximity to the border, not just along the coast," McCaul said in a statement announcing the letter.

In addition to the new UAVs, the lawmakers are also requesting that DHS increase the number of flight crews and and ground operations needed to support the new surveillance equipment.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Update (10 a.m. on April 28): DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said the agency will respond directly to the lawmakers, but no decisions have been made about where to locate the new border-surveillance equipment.

"Assets will be deployed based on operational need," Chandler said in an email.