Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Napolitano: Strike at drug cartels now

WASHINGTON — The time is right for striking at the Mexican drug cartels, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday.

“We have a unique opportunity now in time because of the priority this has taken with the president of Mexico to break up these cartels,” the former two-term Arizona governor and federal prosecutor told Gannett Washington Bureau in an interview. “These cartels have been around for a long time… There’s an interest in both countries in breaking them up.”

Napolitano was referring to Mexican President Felipe Calderón, widely praised by the Obama administration for his courage in taking on the cartels that have ravaged northern Mexico and spread their culture of kidnapping and violence into the American Southwest, especially through Arizona.

Napolitano said she hopes an upcoming series of meetings with Mexican officials involving her, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will lead to more U.S. interdiction on southbound drugs and cash.

But she said the Mexican government will also be pressed on what resources it’s going to put into Mexico’s northern territories to fight the cartels.

“Having the president of Mexico take the lead is something new,” she said. “Clearly, putting his administration behind this — that’s a unique opportunity.”

Federal officials say Mexico’s increasingly brazen drug cartels have infiltrated as many 230 U.S. cities and now represent the most serious organized-crime threat to the United States.

While Napolitano said it’s important to bring border concerns to the attention of Congress, she has not pressed yet for more funding.

“Right now, we’re doing this with the resources that we have,” she said. “We’ll see where that goes.”

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, introduced legislation Tuesday to provide an additional $550 million to fight drug violence along the border.

Their budget amendment includes $260 million for Customs and Border Protection to hire, train, equip and deploy 1,600 officers and 400 canine teams to the border to boost inspections of vehicles heading from the U.S. into Mexico. The increased inspections would be aimed at stopping the cartels from smuggling weapons and drug money out of the U.S.

The legislation also would provide $130 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 350 full-time investigators to target weapons smuggling and money laundering.

“Secretary Napolitano said the administration’s plan was budget-neutral,” Lieberman said. “But the Mexican drug cartels are a clear and present danger to the U.S., and that fact compels us to provide our federal law enforcement agencies with additional funding.”

The Obama administration has unveiled a major expansion of interdiction efforts along the border. It recently announced it’s sending hundreds of federal agents, along with high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, to the Southwest, mainly to keep violence from bleeding over the U.S.-Mexico border.

National Guard troops could be sent to protect the border if the situation worsens, Napolitano has said.

But Obama administration officials have stressed they are not eager to militarize the border.

Locally, law enforcement budgets are being strained to the breaking point in the battle against the cartels.

Sheriff Larry Dever from Cochise County in Arizona told a House panel Tuesday that as much as 37 percent of local law enforcement budgets are being spent dealing with illegal immigrants.

“Every federal strategy needs state and local input,” he said.

The battle now, he said, is not being won.

“Smugglers working on the U.S. side of the border are more inclined to fight than flee,” Dever said. “They have better telecommunications than many border law enforcement agencies, and have extremely sophisticated networks that challenge the best we have to offer in response.”

Sigifredo Gonzalez, sheriff of Zapata County, Texas, characterized the problem as “narco-terrorism.”

“People living along the border and other areas in the United States, at one time or another, are experiencing domestic terrorism,” he said.

Napolitano has said the administration’s plan is focused on:

• Stopping gun and cash shipments from going south into Mexico. This is a major part of the problem, she said.

Holder has talked about reinstating the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, but Napolitano said current laws can be used to effectively prosecute gunrunners supplying the Mexican cartels.

• Supporting state and local law enforcement along the border.

• Backing Calderón in his war against the cartels.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service