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By W. Gardner Selby January 28, 2011

Attorney General Greg Abbott says bullets have crossed the border from Mexico at least four times

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, publicizing his call for Congress to investigate a shooting along the U.S.-Mexico border, said in a press release this month that his demand "comes after at least four incidents where bullets from Mexico have crossed the border, putting at risk the safety and security of Texas residents."

We’ve found other claims about cross-border violence — how many people have been killed across the border and whether spillover violence is escalating, for example —  to be inflated. So we looked into Abbott’s count.

According to an Associated Press news article, authorities from the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s office said road workers near the border "were fired upon by an unknown gunman in Mexico" on Jan. 13. Abbott referred to the incident in his Jan. 14 press release announcing he’d sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, urging their committees to review the Obama administration’s "response to this incident and others like it" and "determine what the federal government can do to protect border residents."

Abbott’s press release said: "Gunmen in Mexico fired across the border at U.S. road workers in rural West Texas, in what local law enforcement considers to be an attempt by drug smugglers to scare the workers away so that their smuggling operations in the U.S. could continue."

Abbott’s letter offers more detail: "Six months ago, I warned President (Barack) Obama about the life-threatening danger of bullets flying across the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas. At that time, El Paso’s City Hall had just been struck by gunfire from the Mexican side of the border. In August of last year, more stray bullets from inside Mexico struck school buildings at the University of Texas at El Paso."

In a June 30 letter to Obama, Abbott said "it was mere luck that the bullets struck buildings rather than bodies." He urged the president to "make border security (his) top priority."

Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland provided us with the administration’s response, from Jarrod Bernstein, acting assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. "Border security remains a top priority for this administration," Bernstein wrote Dec. 10, also pointing out that "Obama has deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border."

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We previously confirmed three of the incidents Abbott referred to while fact-checking earlier statements, including one that Abbott made in August about gunfire in Mexico that month had led El Paso authorities to close a section of U.S. 85. A building on the UTEP campus was struck by a bullet that police suspect was fired during the incident, according to an Aug. 24 El Paso Times news article. Subsequent news articles by the Times reported more than one bullet crossed the border.

Earlier, bullets fired on the Mexico side of the border struck El Paso’s City Hall June 29, an incident Gov. Rick Perry referred to in July. According to the El Paso Police Department, one bullet traveled through a ninth-floor window and an interior wall before lodging in a picture frame. Stucco walls of the government building were struck by an additional six rounds, the police said.

"Investigators believe that the rounds may be related to (a shooting incident) that occurred in Juarez," a police department press release said. In August, department spokesman Darrel Petry told us the bullets flew during an attack in Juarez on Mexican federal agents.

In March, checking Sen. John Cornyn’s claim that spillover violence in Texas is real and escalating, we confirmed that in September 2009, the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College closed for several days after stray bullets from a shootout from the Mexican side of the border hit a car and building on campus.

Strickland, who told us that Abbott wasn’t referring to a specific time period when he said at least four incidents have brought bullets across the border, pointed to news reports to confirm the recent incident in West Texas.

On Jan. 14, the El Paso Times, reported that the day before, "at least one gunman fired a high-powered rifles across the border" at four road workers toiling about half a mile from the border, east of Fort Hancock. Robert Wilson, a lieutenant with the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office, told us authorities found eight bullets around Indian Hot Springs Road, where the men were working. The men weren’t hit, according to the news article.

We rate Abbott’s statement as True.

Our Sources

Press release: Attorney General Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General Abbott calls on U.S. House of Representatives to take action to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, Jan. 14, 2011

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s letter to Rep. Lamar Smith and Rep. Peter King, Jan. 14, 2011

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s letter to President Barack Obama, June 30, 2010

Letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to Attorney General Greg Abbott, Dec. 10, 2010

El Paso Times, Mexican gunman fires across border toward U.S. highway workers, Jan. 14, 2011, Latest border gunfire in Texas targeting four U.S. workers proves violence ‘getting worse,’ authorities say, Jan. 19, 2011

The Associated Press, Bullet from Mexico shootout dings UTEP, Aug. 23, 2010, Mexico violence spillover: Bullet from Juarez shootout strikes UTEP campus, Aug. 22, 2010

El Paso Times, Shots apparently fired from Juarez pelt City Hall, enter office, June 30, 2010, UT Brownsville campus closed by cross-border gunfire, Sept. 5, 2009, UTB prepares warning system for Mexico violence, Nov. 17, 2010

The Brownsville Herald, Shooting prompts closing of UTB-TSC; international bridges, Nov. 6, 2010

The Brownsville Herald, Death toll mounts in Matamoros shootout as sporadic fighting continues, Nov. 6, 2010

PolitiFact, AG Greg Abbott says El Paso highway was closed because of bullets flying across border, Sept. 1, 2010

PolitiFact Texas, Rick Perry says violence from Mexico reaching El Paso, with bullets flying and bombs exploding, Aug. 5, 2010

PolitiFact Texas, Cornyn says spillover violence in Texas is real and escalating, March 27, 2010

Interview with Jerry Strickland, communications director, Texas attorney general’s office, Jan. 20, 2011

Interview with Robert Wilson, lieutenant, Hudpseth County Sherrif’s Office, Jan. 21, 2011

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Attorney General Greg Abbott says bullets have crossed the border from Mexico at least four times

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