EL PASO, Texas – A deadly shootout between gunmen and Mexican police that left seven bullet holes in El Paso City Hall has renewed calls for tighter border security, even as local authorities say little can be done to stop stray bullets from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote President Barack Obama on Wednesday to say Tuesday's "cross-border gunfire" was more proof that the state "is under constant assault from illegal activity threatening a porous border."
Mexican authorities said the shootout began between police and armed suspects in Ciudad Juarez — a city plagued by drug violence just across the Rio Grande from El Paso — as officers were trying to investigate a vehicle with no license plates in a border-area parking lot within view of El Paso City Hall.
Police and the suspects exchanged at least 40 shots, and El Paso police believe seven of those bullets flew over the border — traveling more than a half-mile — and hit city hall. No one was injured in El Paso, but a Mexican federal police officer and a bystander in Juarez were killed.
In his letter to Obama, Abbott said "good fortune" prevented any injuries when a single bullet crashed through a ninth-floor office window but insisted the incident was evidence of the need for more border security.
"Luck and good fortune are not effective border enforcement policies," Abbott wrote. "The shocking reality of cross-border gunfire proves the cold reality: American lives are at risk."
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about Abbott's letter.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in Juarez since the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels started fighting for control of the sprawling border city in 2008. Daylight shootings have become commonplace.
Despite concerns of spillover violence from Mexico's bloody fight against drug cartels, many border cities, including El Paso, have remained largely unscathed.
So far this year, El Paso has recorded one homicide, compared to more than 1,300 killings in Juarez.
El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson shrugged off suggestions that more security could prevent stray bullets from flying across the border.
"A (multimillion-dollar) wall didn't stop bullets," Wilson said, referring to the border fence built during the Bush administration.
"It's an unfortunate reality of where we are," she said.
Abbott is among a growing number of politicians from around the country arguing for more border security.
Earlier this year, Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was shot to death in a remote stretch of desert on his property about 20 miles from the border. Investigators have said footprints led from the scene of that shooting south to the border.
Krentz's killing prompted an outcry over border security. Lawmakers in Arizona later passed a bill giving local police authority to ask about someone's immigration status in certain situations.
Obama has ordered up to 1,200 National Guard soldiers to the border.
Associated Press Writer Olivia Torres contributed to this report from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.