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By W. Gardner Selby May 24, 2011

Louie Gohmert says Gov. Rick Perry is begging for Coast Guard to patrol two border lakes

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, sounded downbeat about President Barack Obama’s commitment to securing the U.S.-Mexico border May 10, the day the president spoke on immigration policy in El Paso.

In an interview on the Georgia-based Martha Zoller Show, Gohmert pointed to two lakes that straddle the border, Falcon Lake and Lake Amistad.

Gohmert went on to say he'd recently visited with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and "they've been begging for the federal government to give us some Coast Guard help" on the lakes because Texas is "having to do what the federal government will not and try to patrol the lakes but they, the drug cartels, have spotters, they watch where these guys are; we need Coast Guard down there protecting our border. You’ve got people being smuggled, drugs being smuggled and the president will not lift one finger here to see there is protection."

Never mind the president’s fingers; has the state of Texas begged for Coast Guard help on the lakes?

The lakes are man-made reservoirs about 200 miles apart on the Rio Grande; the international boundary runs down the center of the river channel. According to Alan Cox, superintendent of the Amistad National Recreation Area, Lake Amistad, 12 miles northwest of Del Rio, has had no cartel-tied deaths.

But on Falcon Lake, about 40 miles east of Laredo, an American jet skiier was gunned down last fall. Stratfor, an Austin intelligence firm, subsequently speculated that the man, who had been viewing Mexican ruins with his wife, was murdered by low-level members of Los Zetas, a drug trafficking group, who were trying to protect the smuggling corridor.

As reported by The Houston Chronicle in October, the ambush by three boatloads was the fifth reported confrontation with "pirates" on the border lake since the spring. It was the first involving a shooting death, followed by a gun chase extending to the U.S. side.

More recently, the San Antonio Express-News reported that on May 8 Mexican marines patrolling the lake killed 12 presumed Zeta drug gang members in a battle that erupted after the military discovered an island drug encampment.

When we sought backup for Gohmert’s statement, his office pointed us to Perry’s Aug. 9 letter to Obama urging additional federal resources to combat "increasing violence" on the border. His three-page letter termed insufficient the approved deployment of "just 286 National Guard personnel" on the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border and revisits Perry’s request for the federal government to send 1,000 National Guard troops to Texas and fly unmanned aircraft on the border.

His letter does not mention the Coast Guard.

Next, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger told us the state has not asked the federal government to send the Coast Guard to the lakes. But, she said, Perry has spoken to members of Congress "about getting Coast Guard (personnel)" on the lakes. "It’s pretty damn obvious the governor has been pretty adamant about getting additional (border) resources... however they send them down, that’s great," Cesinger said.

In an email, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Adam Fetcher did not speak directly to Texas seeking Coast Guard help on the lakes. He said, though, that the Coast Guard works with the Border Patrol to "conduct periodic patrol operations in the (border) area and surge(s) as needed."

Fetcher specified that the Coast Guard, drawing on personnel based in Corpus Christi and other South Texas locales, conducts periodic operations on Falcon Lake, but he did not mention security on Lake Amisted. Cox later told us the Coast Guard conducts joint lake patrols on Lake Amistad with the National Park Service about four times a year.

Cox said one reason there have been no deaths on the lake linked to the illegal drug trade is the presence of many law enforcement officers: The Border Patrol has 20 agents assigned to the lake, the park service has 17 agents and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department maintains eight game wardens out of nearby Del Rio, he said.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, whose jurisdiction includes Falcon Lake, said by email he was unaware of any request by Gohmert for Coast Guard patrols on Falcon Lake, though he said they would "do good... and are needed." Gonzalez said the Coast Guard already comes to the lake "once in a while... not very often" because, he speculated, of budgetary limits.

Our sense: It’s possible Perry has informally talked to some House members about putting the Coast Guard on the lakes--where that force already periodically ventures. But he’s made no formal direct request to the government. That’s far from "begging" for Coast Guard deployment.

We rate Gohmert’s statement False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Email (excerpted), response to PolitiFact Texas, Adam Fetcher, assistant press secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, May 13, 2011

Email (excerpted), response to PolitiFact Texas, Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr., Zapata County sheriff, May 16, 2011

Stratfor, report, "The Falcon Lake Murder and Mexico's Drug Wars," Oct. 21, 2010

Telephone interview, Katherine Cesinger, deputy press secretary, Gov. Rick Perry, May 11, 2011

Telephone interview, Alan Cox, superintendent, Amistad National Recreation Area, May 13, 2011

The Houston Chronicle, news article, "Texas sheriff on Jet Skier: 'All we want ... is a body,'" Oct. 8, 2010

Martha Zoller Show, interview of U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, May 10, 2011

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Louie Gohmert says Gov. Rick Perry is begging for Coast Guard to patrol two border lakes

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