The Texas border region is not becoming a combat zone nor is it an overwhelmed haven for refugees fleeing well-publicized violent clashes in Mexico, where that nation's military is fighting to destroy powerful and illegal drug cartels throughout their country, not just in northern Mexican border cities.

But those are some of the unfair images that are being sent to the rest of the state and nation, area officials testified in McAllen on April 29, before a joint state legislative panel hearing — led by Rep. Veronica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview — to evaluate the effectiveness of state operations at controlling drug-related crimes and other violence along the Texas Mexico border.

"We should stop the hysteria. The sky is not falling. We are not being overrun at the border," McAllen Police Chief VĂ-ctor RodrĂ-guez told a full-house in one of the major conference rooms at the McAllen Convention Center. "The realities are that the border communities are safer than Texas' inner-most and largest communities. We are not a lawless frontier."

His comments were shared with state legislators, an even larger number of news media outlets, numerous area political and economic development leaders, and a cross-section of law enforcement professionals who participated in the day-long event before Gonzáles' House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs and Merritt's House Committee on Public Safety.

Rep. Armando "Mando" MartĂ-nez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, also participated with fellow state lawmakers during the legislative hearing.

After welcoming lawmakers participating in the rare dual-legislative committee hearing in South Texas, McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz lamented how a growing number of the press — when reporting on Mexican military battles with criminal drug cartels in that country — are distorting what is really happening on the Texas side of the border.

"We want the truth, and the truth is we have concerns about the violence in Mexico," Cortéz said, but cautioned, "There has to be a profit in sensationalizing information because everyone seems to pick that approach to disseminate information."

Lucy Canales, a successful area attorney and partner with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP — a national law firm based in Austin which has offices in Edinburg and Brownsville — was part of the large audience that attended the public hearing.

"The impression you get through the media is not actually what I saw today," she observed.

She noted the results of a recent survey of Mexican nationals, conducted by local officials, which

demonstrates that deep South Texas is viewed favorably by those foreign tourists.

"When they come to McAllen, they are able to enjoy the American infrastructure, the American culture, the American food, and the American experience," Canales said.

In addition, she pointed out, local residents give high-marks to the state of the city.

"We are also seeing a migration of young, talented people who before were leaving this area looking for opportunity elsewhere, some of them are now staying — and some of the ones we lost in the past are coming back," Canales said. "That tells me that the quality of life that is found in McAllen is a desirable one."

Lilia Ledesma, also a partner in the Edinburg branch of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP who attended the session, said conducting the open hearing in McAllen was a great public service.

"I was very pleased to see that we have numerous clients here — local elected officials — to listen and participate," Ledesma said. "I really commend Rep. Gonzáles for doing everything possible to make sure this hearing was held here, not only so area residents would understand and become aware of all of the protocols and measures that are in place, but also for the business community to be aware of the plans that are in place."

RodrĂ-guez and Cortéz emphasized that Texas border cities are among the best places in which to live, raise a family, work and own a business.

"We are one of the safest cities in the entire United States, if you agree with statistical information," Cortéz said after addressing the legislators. "Empirical data shows that some of the border cities, including El Paso and Laredo, are among the safest cities in the U.S."

According to the McAllen police chief, who cited data from the 2008 Uniform Crime Reporting Information:

• The highest murder rate in Texas occurs in Dallas, at 13.3 homicides per 100,000 population;

• Dallas' rate is equal to approximately 200 percent greater than the highest murder rate in the most violent border city. Houston and San Antonio follow in that category;

• The highest rate of rape in Texas occurs in Forth Worth;

• The highest robbery rate in Texas occurs in Dallas;

• The highest aggravated assault rate in Texas occurs in Houston; and

• Based upon crimes of violence, Houston suffers the highest and most violent crime rates. When compared to McAllen, this is a crime rate that is 400 percent greater than McAllen's.

"All of this is not to say that we do not need resources to assist our daily battle against crime," said RodrĂ-guez. "However, what we ask for is action that is responsive to the realities of the situation. What we ask for is action without the rhetoric, and action without the sound bites."

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