As Mexican drug cartels continue to frighten residents along both sides of the Rio Grande River, one Border Patrol Agent says a tiny Texas town can sleep easy.
Border Patrol Agent Joe Romero was among several local law enforcement officials at a town hall meeting on Wednesday in Fort Hancock, a town of 1,700 roughly 50 miles southeast Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of Mexico’s violent drug war.
Romero said the meeting was held following the request of Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West to quell rising fears stemming from the possibility that violence in Mexico, particularly from El Sorvenir just across the Rio Grande, could enter the United States at any moment.
“The residents are concerned,” Romero told FoxNews.com. “They want to know what’s happening.”
Feedback was mostly positive and residents urged law enforcement officials to “keep doing what [they’re] doing,” Romero said, but fear was not absent.
“For some of these people, they’re a stone’s throw away from what’s going on across the border,” he said. “And they have genuine concerns. I know if I was living right along this area, I’d be very concerned too, and I’d have questions. We’re here to reassure them. We’re doing the best we can.”
Due to its size, Romero said residents of Fort Hancock, a desolate, sandswept town, are well-suited to spot newcomers, whether they be illegal immigrants, smugglers or members of drug cartels.
“Be on the lookout, make sure there’s not something we need to be concerned about,” he said. “You get to recognize these things.”
Romero is quick to note that, thus far, Mexican drug cartels have not victimized anyone in the U.S. border town. Still, while the town is “safe,” he said, threats do remain.
“There’s always going to be a threat, whether it’s a drug cartel, an international threat or a local threat – you know, there’s still gangs in the area,” he said. “But relative to what we’re talking about, I haven’t seen anything that would corroborate or justify any type of fear in the community to say, ‘Oh my God, we’re in the middle of this drug violence about to spill over.’ It just hasn’t happened.”
Romero said Fort Hancock residents are actually safer now than they were five years ago when drug smuggling and violence were more prevalent in the area.
“Are there still some? Yes,” he said. “But very few compared to what we used to have … We do believe it’s getting better.”
Despite those assurances, other Fort Hancock officials say the situation is worsening. Mike Doyal, chief deputy sheriff of Hudspeth County, has said he’s received word that drug cartels have threatened to kill children in Mexican schools unless 5,000-peso ransoms are paid. And Fort Hancock Schools Superintendent Jose Franco has recently increased security and patrols around schools.
Those are realities not ignored by Romero.
"At no point am I going to indicate that we have full control of the border, or that we're 100 percent secure on the border," he said. "It's still a struggle, there’s still some work to be done. But we've made huge strides."