Morrow County sheriff visits the U.S., Mexico border

Article author: 
East Oregonian
Article publisher: 
East Oregonian
Article date: 
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Monday, August 18, 2014
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

With 40 years of law enforcement experience, Morrow County Sheriff Kenneth Matlack has a vested interest in making sure that those who cross the southern border are here to better their lives without breaking the law.

“There are many people who cross over the border and are hardworking people who are trying to make a better life for themselves,” Matlack said. “But there are a lot of criminals who come over here and are still being criminals, and when they’re deported, they’re just coming back over and keep committing crimes.”

Matlack said he has noticed a trend of the same illegal immigrant criminals coming back to the states just a few months after being deported, and he wanted to see for himself how the border could be letting so many people in. So he and five other sheriffs visited the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas State Police Border Patrol.

“(Officers) are doing the absolute best they can with what’s available, but patrols are overwhelmed,” Matlack said.

Matlack was impressed with their security, but border patrol and Texas State Police are too thinned out to properly cover the border, he said. And if an illegal immigrant is caught, they have to put them through a detention center that is also stretched too thin.

At the detention center Matlack visited, the McAllen Border Station would process about 250 immigrants in a day while he was there.

“In the facilities they break them apart into different groups, but they keep the families together,” Matlack said. “It’s similar to a county jail. There’s open spaces, cafeteria and an exercise area, but it’s not really designed to hold that many people.”

Matlack’s trip to the south was funded by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR is a non-profit organization that seeks to eliminate illegal immigration and increase border security.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” FAIR Press Secretary Anna Giaritelli said. “But it’s something we’ve wanted to do so that people can see for themselves what’s happening.”

When Matlack would sit in on briefings during his visit, he said the primary topic was seeking out and infiltrating the Mexican drug cartels.

“What happens at the border doesn’t stay at the border,” Matlack said. “The drugs that are crossing through there are spreading throughout the states. It’s a fight every day for the patrols to try and track down these cartels.”

Once a person is processed, within 48 hours they’re taken to Health and Human Services shelters and they’ll have their deportation trial. Among those 250 are a mix of people seeking a fresh start or family member already in the U.S., but also criminals and people involved with cartels. The process of finding out who’s who among the crowd is an exhaustive and imprecise process.

“It’s frustrating to see all the drug activity that’s coming from the border because it’s not secure,” Matlack said. “I’m not looking to over-simplify things, but something needs to be done to secure things, and it has to be a permanent fix, not a quick one.”