Naxiely Lopez

The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

March 27--MCALLEN -- U.S. border officials are asking the military to send equipment no longer needed in Iraq and Afghanistan to the U.S.-Mexico border.

A massive drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq will essentially leave almost 2 million pieces of equipment to be distributed, sold or stored elsewhere, according to two Texas lawmakers and 17 border sheriffs from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

At least 1.5 million pieces have already been shipped out of Iraq and more than 900,000 others remain there, said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

He and fellow Texas Congressman Ted Poe, R-Humble, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta requesting the Department of Defense initiate talks about its plans for the goods.

The document -- signed by the 17 sheriffs, included those of Willacy, Starr and Hidalgo counties -- asks the Defense Department to send the surplus equipment to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border to aid in their fight against drug cartels.

"State and local officials are on the front lines of the southern border fighting to protect Americans from spillover violence from Mexico," Poe said. "They do the best they can with what they've got, but they are out-manned and out-gunned by the drug cartels and they are desperate for more resources."

Sheriff Lupe Trevino believes it's a win-win situation. Taxpayer money will be saved during "this budget crunch" and the equipment will be put to good use instead of "collecting mothballs," he said.

"I don't see why anyone would object to something like this," Trevino said. "They've done it before."

The Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office received fully automatic and semi-automatic weapons, first-aid kits and at least three buses that are now used to transport prisoners, Trevino said. Some sheriffs in the Western side of the border received Humvees, which he said were not needed along this portion of the border.

Some critics, however, cite an apparent militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Earlier this year, Texas Department of Public Safety deployed six armored boats equipped with machine guns to patrol the Rio Grande.

Trevino, however, said troops are not occupying the border.

"Militarizing the border is one thing, and law enforcement folks using military equipment is something else," he said. "We're talking about using equipment that will probably never get used."

Poe introduced H.R. 3422, the SEND Act, which directs the Defense Department to make 10 percent of certain equipment returning from Iraq available to law enforcement agencies patrolling the southern border.

Agencies here could benefit from the unused weapons, vehicles, communication trailers and observation platforms, Trevino said.

"We intend to keep the lines of communication open with the Defense Department so that we can help our border law enforcement agencies navigate the equipment application process," Cuellar said.

In January, he hosted a meeting with Assistant Undersecretary of Defense Paul. N. Stockton and South Texas agencies to brief them about the federal programs available to acquire military surplus equipment and technology.