Obama commits more federal agents to Mexico border

Drug violence feared moving closer to US

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden pledged to help Mexico destroy its drug cartels. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden pledged to help Mexico destroy its drug cartels.
Globe Wire Services / March 25, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama will send at least 450 more federal agents, drug-sniffing dogs, X-ray scanners, intelligence analysts, and other law enforcement resources to the US-Mexico border in what administration officials yesterday called a comprehensive response to fight Mexican drug cartels and keep violence from spilling into the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said officials were still considering whether to deploy the National Guard to the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico, which the two states' governors had requested. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden pledged "to destroy these criminal organizations" through a united effort on both sides of the border.

The administration blitz is intended to support President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, whose two-year campaign to break the power of Mexican narco-trafficking rings has triggered a spiral of violence that has killed 7,200 people since the beginning of 2008. The turf battles as gangs battle each other for territory and fight off the government crackdown have also led to a spate of kidnappings and home invasions in some US cities.

Officials said President Obama is particularly concerned about killings in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, and wants to prevent such violence from spilling over the border. US intelligence officials say that Mexican drug violence remains almost entirely limited to individuals with links to the drug trade and that crime statistics do not bear out the view that the killings are spreading to US cities.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travels to Mexico today for the start of several weeks of high-level meetings between the two countries on the drug violence issue, followed by Obama's own visit in mid-April. While Mexico wants the United States to take more responsibility in the drug fight, officials have also bristled at the increasing "militarization" of the border, saying that it has made illegal immigration more dangerous and done little to crack down on the illegal weapons trade.

Officials outlined roughly $800 million in new efforts and continuations or expansions of programs under the Bush administration paid for through economic stimulus funds and the Merida Initiative, a three-year aid program for Mexico and Central America approved by Congress last year to counter drug trafficking.

Among new efforts, the Homeland Security Department will send 350 people, including 100 customs inspection workers; more mobile X-ray scanners; license-plate readers and canine teams to southbound checkpoints aimed at deterring cash and weapons smuggling south from the United States into Mexico. For the first time, the United States has begun efforts that will result in screening 100 percent of rail cars moving south across the border for contraband, Napolitano said.

Prosecutors say they will make a greater effort to go after those smuggling guns and drug profits from the United States into Mexico. Napolitano acknowledged that the fight against the drug cartels is not just in Mexico, but also in the United States, where the drugs are sold.

"This is a supply issue, and it's a demand issue," she said. To address the demand, she cited drug courts that "have been very effective in reducing recidivism among drug offenders."

The plans fall short of the request last month of Governor Rick Perry of Texas that 1,000 troops be sent to bolster border security in his state. During a visit to El Paso last month, Perry said he had asked Napolitano for aviation assets and "1,000 more troops that we can commit to different parts of the border."

The proposals also don't tackle gun control on the US side of the border. When Attorney General Eric Holder last month suggested reinstituting a ban that expired in 2004 on the sale of certain semiautomatic weapons, many lawmakers balked.

"I don't think the solution to Mexico's problems is to limit Second Amendment gun rights in this country," said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. "What we can do is help our Mexican friends enforce their own laws." Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the administration's plan would be inadequate if it does not enact new gun restrictions.

Mexico has long tried to get the United States to curtail the number of guns - many purchased legally - that wind up south of the border, where gun laws are much stricter.

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