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Featured at microphone: Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, flanked by fellow House members and law enforcement leaders in the Speaker’s Committee Room at the Texas Capitol, addressing reporters on Wednesday, March 11, regarding his filing of House Bill 12, which targets Mexican drug cartels and related crimes along the Texas border with Mexico.

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Prosecutors and other law enforcement leaders along the Texas-Mexico border will have a stronger weapon against criminals, especially those tied into the deadly plots of Mexican drug cartels, under legislation by Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, which was unanimously approved by the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday, April 9. His measure, House Bill 12, includes Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, as a co-author of the legislation. HB 12, which still must receive Senate approval and signed into law by the governor, would increase the ability of the Border Prosecution Unit to better coordinate efforts by local and state authorities to fight Mexican drug lords by improving on the Texas side of the border the prosecution of crimes and criminal enterprises, especially in more rural border counties, associated with drug cartels. “I am extremely pleased to announce that House Bill 12 has been voted out of the House,” Longoria said. “This legislation is important because it places the Border Prosecution Unit into statute, which better allows local officials to prosecute crimes, such as drug smuggling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering and human trafficking.” HB 12 would formalize the practices and procedures that the Border Prosecution Unit has been implementing successfully since 2009, when Gov. Rick Perry created the unit to aid in border security operations, according to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization, which is the research-arm of the House of Representatives. The House Research Organization, in its bill analysis of HB 12, also noted that border crime affects the entire state, but HB 12 would help prevent criminals from spreading deeper into Texas by stopping crime as close to the border as possible. But it also shielded the border region from claims that it is crime-ridden. “The border region has a low crime rate compared with the rest of the state,” the House Research Organization found. “El Paso has one of the lowest crime rates in the country compared with other cities of its size, and the Rio Grande Valley is safer than most U.S. cities.” The Border Prosecution Unit, or “BPU” as it has come to be known, is a history-making initiative involving the Texas Department of Public Safety and each of the district attorneys in the border jurisdictions of Texas, according to District Attorney Carlos Omar García of Jim Wells County. Stretching from El Paso to Brownsville and covering 49 counties along and adjacent to the Rio Grande River, the Border Prosecution Unit encompasses a network of 17 Texas district attorney offices, including García’s 79th Judicial District. In each of these offices, an assistant district attorney is assigned to handle a specialized caseload of border crime cases, García explains on his official web site. “The Border Prosecution Unit is vital in helping prosecutors screen cases, secure indictments and bring accused criminals to trial,” Longoria noted. “This bill will give our prosecutors the resources and support they need to ensure that those who enslave, exploit and endanger others are put behind bars where they belong.”

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House approves House Bill 12 by Rep. Longoria to intensify Texas’ battles on the border against Mexican drug cartels

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Prosecutors and other law enforcement leaders along the Texas-Mexico border will have a stronger weapon against criminals, especially those tied into the deadly plots of Mexican drug cartels, under legislation by Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, which was unanimously approved by the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday, April 9.

His measure, House Bill 12, includes Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, as a co-author of the legislation.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-League City, are joint authors of HB 12.

HB 12, which still must receive Senate approval and signed into law by the governor, would increase the ability of the Border Prosecution Unit to better coordinate efforts by local and state authorities to fight Mexican drug lords by improving on the Texas side of the border the prosecution of crimes and criminal enterprises, especially in more rural border counties, associated with drug cartels.

“I am extremely pleased to announce that House Bill 12 has been voted out of the House,” Longoria said. “This legislation is important because it places the Border Prosecution Unit into statute, which better allows local officials to prosecute crimes, such as drug smuggling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering and human trafficking.”

HB 12 would formalize the practices and procedures that the Border Prosecution Unit has been implementing successfully since 2009, when Gov. Rick Perry created the unit to aid in border security operations, according to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization, which is the research-arm of the House of Representatives.

The House Research Organization, in its bill analysis of HB 12, also noted that border crime affects the entire state, but HB 12 would help prevent criminals from spreading deeper into Texas by stopping crime as close to the border as possible. But it also shielded the border region from claims that it is crime-ridden.

“The border region has a low crime rate compared with the rest of the state,” the House Research Organization found. “El Paso has one of the lowest crime rates in the country compared with other cities of its size, and the Rio Grande Valley is safer than most U.S. cities.”

The Border Prosecution Unit, or “BPU” as it has come to be known, is a history-making initiative involving the Texas Department of Public Safety and each of the district attorneys in the border jurisdictions of Texas, according to District Attorney Carlos Omar García of Jim Wells County.

Stretching from El Paso to Brownsville and covering 49 counties along and adjacent to the Rio Grande River, the Border Prosecution Unit encompasses a network of 17 Texas district attorney offices, including García’s 79th Judicial District. In each of these offices, an assistant district attorney is assigned to handle a specialized caseload of border crime cases, García explains on his official web site.

“The Border Prosecution Unit is vital in helping prosecutors screen cases, secure indictments and bring accused criminals to trial,” Longoria noted. “This bill will give our prosecutors the resources and support they need to ensure that those who enslave, exploit and endanger others are put behind bars where they belong.”

Also according to the House Research Organization:

• The Border Prosecution Unit is vital in providing resources to prosecutors to screen cases, secure indictments, and bring criminals to trial. Under the program, the state provides funding for district attorneys to coordinate with law enforcement to handle border crimes, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, and money laundering. The Border Prosecution Unit also targets gangs and other criminal organizations operating in Texas, including those in state prison facilities.

• House Bill 12 will facilitate the BPU in prosecuting drug/border crimes (murder, kidnapping, extortion), criminal enterprises associated with cartels and drug trade, financial crimes and human trafficking. The bill will enhance relations between each district attorney, the state’s Texas Department of Public Safety and law enforcement organizations on the ground. They will work together in the handling of cases that reach across county/jurisdictional boundaries.

• House Bill 12 will also implement threat-based operational goals and practices targeting gangs and other criminal organizations operating in Texas, including those in state prison facilities.

In reviewing HB 12, the House Research Organization provided the following key highlights of the House-approved legislation:

• Codifying the Border Prosecution Unit would give it more predictability and permanency. Formally establishing the Border Prosecution Unit also would complement the increase in law enforcement that recently was established in the border region.

• Formalizing the unit’s practices would improve coordination and communication on the border between prosecutors and law enforcement. Some of the regional counsel described in the bill would reside in DPS offices. This would promote more efficient collaboration and use of resources to detect threats and take down large criminal enterprises.

• House Bill 12 also would improve coordination between jurisdictions in cases that reach across county and jurisdictional boundaries. House Bill 12 would allow for money and resources to continue to be distributed to some of the poorest counties in the state where they would make the biggest impact. Border counties have experienced an expansion of criminal activity beyond money laundering and drug trafficking, including kidnapping and extortion. Many cartels and other criminals along the border have figured out which counties have fewer resources for investigations and prosecutions and seek to exploit those areas. Many of the small rural border counties affected by HB 12 have just three prosecutors, only one of which may be a border prosecutor. This bill would solidify a unit that makes a big difference in combating border crime, particularly in those communities.

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Michelle Villarreal contributed to this article. Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, represents House District 35, which encompasses both Hidalgo and Cameron Counties and includes the cities/towns of: La Joya, Sullivan City, Peñitas, Alton, Edinburg, Monte Alto, Edcouch, La Villa, Mercedes, Weslaco, Santa Rosa, Primera, Palm Valley, Combes, Harlingen, and La Feria.

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