Is the Coast Guard on Falcon Lake?

Reading the reports of the murder of Texan David Hartley by “pirates” (legally this is not piracy) on Falcon Lake on the border between the US and Mexico, I’ve seen no mention of the Coast Guard in connection with the case, perhaps because we haven’t been allowed to search on the Mexican side of the Lake.

The 25 mile long, three mile wide lake is artificial, resulting from the damming of the Rio Grande, but the resulting waterway is in some ways analogous to the Great Lakes. It also appears to be a ready route for smuggling people, drugs and guns. Do we have any units on Falcon Lake? If not, should we?

23 thoughts on “Is the Coast Guard on Falcon Lake?

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  2. Should have a small boat station Detachment over on the Lake. Maybe a reserve PSU unit over their should be enough to handle the Mexican pirates. I think CG should look at stationing a Reserve PSU detachment over their with boats to patrol that stretch of the border.

  3. Apparently not. CBS reports that On “The Early Show” Congressman Ted Poe, (R-Texas) said, “The United States needs to use our resources, the Coast Guard. That needs to be operating on the lake at all times, not just this time.”

    Sounds like they have people their searching for the body but that there is no regular presence on the border/lake.

  4. I doubt you’ll see any permanent stepped up CG presence when they haven’t even kept a presence on larger lakes within our own borders. Lake Texoma had a reserve unit there for years on what is a very active recreational area but it was shut down and the reservists had to start drilling in Galveston or elsewhere in D8 instead. Granted they were there for safety reasons and not to fly the ‘homeland security’ flag though. And even if they put a reserve or other unit at Falcon lake it won’t be 24/7, probably only during peak times of use.

  5. This is an interesting blog – we just had a debate about this at our unit. Interesting that we maintain a presence at Lake Tahoe, but this large waterway of the U.S. is devoid of USCG presence. Given the primary mission is to protect the “Coasts” of the U.S., it only makes sense that the USCG would have a boat station on this international, navigable-water border. U.S. citizens shouldn’t be fearful of losing their lives because they wish to navigate on U.S. waters. That’s where the job of the U.S.C.G. becomes self-evident – to make U.S. citizens safer on the water & coasts. We’ll see if the Texas delegation and Governor scream for it, that’s about the only way it will happen.

  6. I’m not up on the law but I suspect that the Coast Guard does not, repeat, not have jurisdiction. My argument would be that it is not a “navigable waterway” in the legal, maritime sense. It is landlocked, after all. But, then, the Lake Tahoe situation blows away my own argument. Maybe Tahoe is an exception because of the amount of recreational traffic . . . or there was an incident and some politician got them a “requirement” to be there. In any event, I doubt if they would be required to establish and maintain a presence for any length of time.

  7. Tahoe has the hook that there has been interstate commerce on the lake (I think it is still only seasonal anyway).

    The odd thing about Falcon Lake, of course, is that it is international. If there is no Coast Guard, are there other Federal Maritime Law enforcement boats on the lake? Is ICE there? DEA? I can’t imagine we would need more than a couple of Response boats to back up the CG Aux.

    Its been kind of a bust, but we have been talking about improving border security.

  8. The Lake is clearly navigable as evidenced by the vessel traffic on and across the lake. Interstate commerce -or international- is easily established as well. Evidently Mexican and US boats use the Lake and regularly cross the international border (this is fairly large Lake at 25 miles long and 3 miles wide). If people from other states or countries frequent the Lake and spend money at/on the Lake, then it’s Interstate Commerce. There is no real question about whether the USCG would have jurisdiction. It’s fairly comparable to Tahoe or even the Great Lakes. Sure the canal connects the Lakes to the Atlantic, but the Rio Grande connects this Lake to the Gulf, and while it may be shallow, you can bet a raft or barge laden with timber or tobacco could make it down there easily. The real question is resource allocation. Nevertheless, there should be some type of LE/sovereign presence along the border. If not, it makes it a very easy place to smuggle people and items across the border.

  9. Wouldn’t Lake Champlain be a good example why we have a US Coast Guard Station their, Such as Station Burlington, Vt that patrols Lake Champlain that borders with Canada. I think it would be wise to put up a LEDET or even a small boat detachment their at Falcon Lake and back it up with Aux presence as well.

  10. SPF2000, yes, obviously, it is navigable in the literal sense but perhaps not in the legal sense. Again, I don’t know the legal definition of a “navigable waterway”. The fact that it is an artificial lake presumes a dam creating it. Unless there is a lock system, vessels can not sail up or down the Rio Grande and enter/leave the lake. It’s my impression that the Coast Guard has jurisdiction on navigable waterways that can be reached from the ocean. I could be WAY wrong (again, the Lake Tahoe example), but that’s where I’m coming from. And it might have international commerce but not interstate commerce. Does the CG have a role in regulating interstate commerce? Texas is the only state bordering the lake. I do agree with you that resource allocation is the biggie. The CG already is juggling WAY too many jobs with too little personnel/equipment. Nicky, I’d be VERY reluctant to be on the water there if I were an Auxiliarist. They have no legal authority and can not carry weapons. Yet they look very official. I could see the drug runners figuring they are the enemy and taking action against, essentially, undefended folks. The Auxiliary could be useful ashore for many tasks but I sure would think twice about going out.

  11. Just pull the plug on the dam and the lake goes away. Draining the lake would show all the seriousness of the U. S. in defending its borders. Also, a bunch of bodies may be found.

    The Coast Guard has every right legally to put a unit there. It is still a revenue protection organization and the smuggling that surely goes on.

    As for Lake Champlain, there are openings to Canada that have been used for smuggling for a few hundred years. There have been shoot outs between the RCS/USCG and smugglers since the Embargo of 1807.

  12. Why can’t the Coast Guard Auxiliary be utilized to extend the services resources? If you train them for various missions they can support Coast Guard operations. If you look to Police reserve/auxiliary units in various cities, volunteer fire departments and to the past (England’s Home Guard, the Coast Guards Temp Reserve of World War 2) you can see that training volunteers can help better support the Coast Guard. Just my 2 cents worth.

  13. Gary, the CG Aux has zero LE or military authority and is not allowed to carry weapons. On top of that, many, if not most, Auxiliarists are in their 50’s or older and not as physically capable of carrying out any mission that would involve possible confrontations with Mexican pirates/bandits, whatever you want to call them.

    To top it off, the Aux uses their own boats. Your average pleasure craft is not well equipped to engage in a fire fight.

  14. I would assume we have CG Aux on Falcon Lake. If I were an auxiliarist, I would definitely not venture over to the Mexican side in uniform. Neither the Mexican government or the criminals are going to like having what appears to be US military on their side of the border.

    On the US side I would leave the level of Aux. activity to the auxiliarists themselves.

  15. The definition of “navigable waterway” would depend on the law referenced. Different terms have different meanings within the context of which laws they apply to. Are there aids to navigation on the lake which are maintained for the commerce of U.S. documented vessels piloted by Coast Guard liscenced captains? I believe there are none of those 3 things on Falcon Lake; and SOLAS classed vessels cannot gain access to the Lake from the Gulf or anywhere else. Nor would they need to. So, as it stands, the Coast Guard has NO legal jurisdiction on Falcon Lake until a specific law is billed and passed giving the USCG jurisdiction. Now it’s up to Congressman Poe to make that happen, if it is to be.

    • I’m glad that Congressman Poe has taken an interest in putting the CG on the lake. He’s the rep of my home district and I’ve written him twice about it.

      14 USC 89 states that the CG can exercise authority on any waterway subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. This is why we have jurisdiction on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, Puget Sound, ALL of Tahoe, ALL of Lake Texoma, and most importantly, the U.S. side of Falcon Lake. So I would say YES, we have just as much right to be on the lake as CBP, ICE, or Texas Parks and Wildlife. We’ve effectively dampened drug and human trafficking along in the Caribbean and Florida Straits (which is why many smugglers and Cuban/Haitian immigrants find it much easier to migrate to the U.S. via Mexico). As for the National Guard, no legal authority that I’m aware of but we keep deploying them along the border – unarmed.

    • If the Coast Guard does get active on the Mexican Border, will that mean the Mexican Border Service Medal be reactivated.

      ‘The Mexican Border Service Medal was a decoration of the United States military which was established by an act of the United States Congress on July 9, 1918. The decoration recognizes those military service members who performed military service on the U.S.-Mexico border between the dates of January 1, 1916 and April 6, 1917, a period of time where the US-Mexico border was perceived to be threatened by a suggested German-funded invasion (discovered by the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram).”

      One Coast Guard cutter patrolled the southern Texas-Mexican border in the original time period but I do not believe it was awarded the medal. It would be really cool to reactivate it.

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  17. Pingback: “US Border Patrol boat damaged by gunfire in brief encounter on Rio Grande” –Baird Maritime | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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