More personnel, equipment to be deployed as Mexico, U.S. strategize
The United States announced Tuesday that it is undertaking new security measures to fortify the Southwestern border against drug-related violence while blocking weapons and bulk cash heading south.
Responding to escalating concerns about the ongoing battle between the Mexican government and narcotics traffickers, the government is moving more than 360 officers and agents from multiple agencies to the border along with more biometric-ID technology, mobile X-ray units, upgraded “license plate readers” and inspection equipment to screen 100 percent of rail traffic into Mexico.
“The steps that we’ve taken are designed to make sure that the border communities in the United States are protected, and you’re not seeing the spillover of violence, and that we are helping the Mexican government deal with a very challenging situation,” President Obama said Tuesday during a televised news conference.
“We are going to continue to monitor the situation and if the steps we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more.”
The plan, which was announced the day before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Mexico, calls for increased collaboration with Mexican authorities and more information sharing as well as a renewed commitment from U.S. officials to address domestic demand for illegal drugs. The role of state and local law enforcement also will expand.
“These steps are not sufficient, but they will help to mitigate the problem,” said Alvaro Bracamontes, director of the Center for North American Studies at the College of Sonora in Hermosillo, Son.
“It is becoming urgent for both countries to assume responsibility in this trafficking of drugs and weapons, and I think for the first time we are seeing a recognition of that co-responsibility.”
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the border redeployment as “a very robust movement of personnel,” but added that “this is really the first wave of things that will be happening.”
The use of more National Guard troops, which has been requested by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, remains under consideration, Napolitano said at a White House news conference.
“We’ve seen some increase in violence, primarily between (the drug) cartels, themselves – kidnappings, for example, in the Phoenix area and the Houston area,” Napolitano said. “But what we want to do is to better secure the border area against further violence and make it a safe and secure area where, of course, the rule of law is upheld and enforced.”
The new border initiatives come amid several congressional hearings on border violence and as U.S.-Mexico relations appear poised to enter a new phase. Clinton heads to Mexico on Wednesday.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Napolitano will go to Mexico in early April, while Obama will do so later next month.
“This partnership between the United States and Mexico is as important as any bilateral relationship that we have and extends not only to these critical questions of counter-narcotics and law enforcement, but the full range of issues that engage our two countries,” Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said.
The new border-security initiatives drew praise from the Mexican government and two members of Congress from Arizona who represent border districts.
“These are important actions of support for the fight that (Mexican) President Felipe Calderón’s government is carrying out,” Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said.
“Mexico is a very proud country. They protect their sovereignty, so for them to ask us for support to fight this violence means a lot,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. “We should treat that request as an opportunity to take it even further.”
Grijalva and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., met with Clinton on Tuesday as part of a group of lawmakers from border districts.
The Obama administration views Mexico as a “strategic partner” as well as a “historic neighbor,” Grijalva said. Clinton assured the lawmakers, he said, that “the long-term issue is to reconnect and redefine our relationship with the country of Mexico, our neighbor, and begin working with that country in order to deal with economic development issues, health issues, education issues, so that Mexico can sustain its own people and its own work force.”
The extra resources will help shake the U.S. out of “a reactive mode” when it comes to the violence, Grijalva said.
“And you put the people you’re after on notice that the United States is going to get serious on their side of the border, and I think that’s a good message to send,” he said.
But the notion that the United States will crack down on its side of the border was met with some immediate skepticism from Mexican observers.
“The ugly stuff is happening here in our country, but there is a strong irresponsibility on the part of the United States. . . . They haven’t done enough,” Bracamontes said.
By Chris Hawley, Dan Nowicki