Obama wants to boost effort on Southwest border

Hopes to reduce drug cartel crime

By Devlin Barrett and Eileen Sullivan
Associated Press / March 19, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is preparing to send federal agents to the Southwest border as reinforcements in the fight against Mexican drug cartels, even as officials consider taking money from one immigration enforcement program and using it to fight cartel-related crime.

The deployments are part of President Obama's first moves to boost federal security on the US side of the border.

The nation's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Eric Holder, told reporters yesterday that he would visit Mexico in early April to meet with Mexico's president and attorney general about cartel violence.

"Our two nations are bound by more than just a common border and we want to make sure that the fate of Mexico turns out to be a good one, because that will have a residual good impact on the United States," Holder said.

Obama is also scheduled to visit Mexico next month.

Immigration officials are considering asking Congress for approval to shift tens of millions of dollars from enforcing workplace immigration laws to the anti- cartel efforts along the Southwest border, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials have not made the request to Congress.

Such a request could face stiff resistance from lawmakers who want that money spent investigating employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Sean Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, denied such a request would be made and said it was never under consideration.

One official said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, known as ICE, will be shifting more than 90 officers to the border.

The additional immigration agents could double the size of an ongoing ICE task force that has been working with other agencies to fight the criminal groups exacerbating border violence.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is hiring 37 people to target gunrunners along the border.

Over the weekend, hundreds of Mexican Army troops arrived in Juarez, a border city across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Police in Juarez have been swamped by drug violence. The move brought the number of soldiers patrolling Juarez to around 7,000.

Warring drug cartels are blamed for more than 560 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2007 and the first half of 2008, as well as killings in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Vancouver.

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