By Rep. Ted Poe

Op-ed in The Daily Caller

For 10 years, thousands of American troops have fought against terrorism and for the liberation of Iraq. Many have sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom on behalf of people in a land halfway around the world, leaving their families with the memory of their fallen heroes. Meanwhile, American taxpayers have spent billions of dollars on the military equipment used during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the U.S. is withdrawing from Iraq and thousands of our desert warriors will soon be enthusiastically welcomed home.

The United States is leaving behind a massive amount of military equipment deemed to be too expensive to bring home. Over the past year, 2.4 million pieces of military equipment — worth at least $250 million — have been transferred for free to the Iraqi government, and more gifts are going to be in Baghdad’s Christmas stocking. But some of the modernized pieces of military equipment are coming home to America. The Department of Defense currently facilitates the distribution of this surplus equipment through the Defense Logistics Agency. One place in serious need of security and equipment is our southern border with Mexico.

There is a war raging in Mexico that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people since 2006. In 2010, there were more civilian deaths in the town of Ciudad Juarez (just down the road from El Paso, Texas) than in the entire country of Afghanistan. Mexico’s militarized drug cartels are a powerful army complete with narco-tanks, helicopters and a massive stockpile of dangerous weapons. The drug war has destabilized Mexico, yet the administration seems to think that the violence will not reach our citizens. The truth is it already has. Human trafficking and drugs flow north of the border every day. Money and firearms go south over our dangerous and insecure border. The narco-terrorists are fully operational in Mexico and in many major cities in the United States.

Those who say that the border is secure and the violence is contained in Mexico are living in a blissful state of denial far from reality. Case in point: Last week, three SUVs carrying Mexican Zeta cartel soldiers attempted to hijack a tractor truck rig loaded with drugs on a road in Houston and unleashed blazing gunfire. A shootout occurred with police who were tracking the truck. The truck driver was killed; a peace officer was wounded. Three Mexican nationals and another of unknown citizenship were charged with capital murder. Sadly, this brazen violence is a familiar scene on the streets of Mexico. And, now it has become a reality in the United States. The local head of the DEA, Javier Pena, said of the incident in Houston: “We are not going to tolerate these thugs using their weapons like the Wild Wild West.” Until Washington realizes that what happens in Mexico doesn’t stay in Mexico, more cartel shootouts on American streets are coming our way.

Yes, there are towns on the border that are relatively “safe.” But in the vast, wide-open, rugged and desolate regions along the border, between the safer legal ports of entry, the cartels are successfully smuggling illegals and drugs throughout the United States. The loyal local first responders of the southern border are in serious need of modern military equipment and well-trained manpower. Washington officials seem to live in a blissful state of denial about their constitutional responsibility to secure the border and protect our national sovereignty. Since the federal government refuses to give law enforcement officers in the border region the equipment and manpower they need, this equipment should be sent to local and state law enforcement to help stop the aggression against America. It’s time to quickly implement a strategy to defend against this threat to American sovereignty.

In order to respond to this dire situation, I have introduced the Send Equipment for National Defense (SEND) Act. This legislation mandates that the Secretary of Defense send 10% of eligible returning equipment from Iraq to state and local law enforcement agencies for border security purposes. Eligible equipment includes: Humvees, night-vision equipment and surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles. This would be made available to the officials who request it through an already existing DOD program.

This is not a new idea. This legislation will simply utilize an existing program, expand it and make resources more readily available to the people who really need it — local and state governments. Washington must utilize all resources to protect America.

This equipment will strengthen the effort to provide intelligence to law enforcement officers so that they can detect and intercept the people and drugs that are compromising the sovereignty of the United States. Night-vision goggles, UAVs and Humvees could be on the front lines of the southern border. Night vision would give state and local officials the ability to see at all times of day. This would greatly enhance their ability to detect unwanted visitors. UAVs have already been a proven asset to border security. Currently there are six UAVs on the southern border (two in Texas). Since 2005, UAVs have been credited with intercepting 7,500 people and over 46,000 pounds of drugs. Using more of this type of equipment could fill in the massive gaps in surveillance of the remote, rugged areas along the border where the cartels roam.

Finally, this bill makes 10% of returning Humvees available to the southern border. On the other side of the Rio Grande River, the drug cartels have well-armed vehicles. Perhaps putting military vehicles in plain sight will make the narco-terrorists think twice before they travel illegally into the United States. This equipment could be a powerful deterrent to keep the bad guys out of America. Texas border sheriffs say Humvees are better than Chevy sedans at chasing down the cartel intruders.

The American people have invested billions of dollars in equipment used to secure Iraq. Now it’s time to use that equipment to secure the United States. The Border Patrol agents are doing the best job they can, but they need help. State and local officials can work with the federal government, defending the international border with Mexico. It’s time that Washington gives them the resources they need to protect Americans from cross-border crime. Sending this equipment to the southern border would give Americans a return on their investment by enhancing our national security.

The United States spends lives and dollars to protect other nations all around the globe, but we refuse to protect our own borders with the same ferocity. Let’s equip border law enforcement officers with the tools that they need to protect the sovereignty of this nation.

Ted Poe (R) represents Texas’s 2nd congressional district.