March 24th, 2009
10:00 AM ET
5 years ago

U.S. announces Mexico border policy overhaul

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Obama administration announced a major increase in security funding and agent deployments along with U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday.

The changes are part of what the White House characterized as a sweeping new federal plan to beef up resources in a region increasingly plagued by drug-related violence. The administration is trying to help the Mexican government break up drug cartels believed to be responsible for the killing of roughly 6,500 people in Mexico last year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

"Our role is to assist in this battle because we have our own security interests in its success," Napolitano said at the White House.

Border states such as Texas and Arizona are experiencing a notable spike in violence as a result of the accelerating Mexican drug war.

The new federal plan, developed by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, calls for doubling the number of border security task force teams, as well as moving a significant number of other federal agents, equipment and resources to the border. It also involves greater intelligence sharing aimed at cracking down on the flow of money and weapons into Mexico which helps fuel the drug trade, senior administration officials said.

The plan specifically commits $700 million to bolster Mexican law enforcement and crime prevention efforts. The new funds will provide, among other things, five new helicopters to increase mobility for the Mexican army and air force, as well as new surveillance aircraft for the Mexican navy.

They will also fund enhanced communications technology for Mexican prosecutors, law enforcement, and immigration officials.

On the U.S. side of the border, the goal is to use "prosecutor-led, intelligence-based task forces that bring together all Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security and other relevant law enforcement agencies to disrupt and dismantle the drug cartels through investigation, prosecution, extradition of their leaders, and the seizure and forfeiture of their assets," Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said.

"As we've found with other large criminal groups, if you take their money and lock up their leaders, you can loosen their grip on the vast organizations that are used to carry out their criminal activities."

The new $700 million allocation, meant to assist what administration officials described as an "anti-smuggling effort," will complement ongoing United States aid to Mexico under the Merida initiative, a three-year $1.4 billion package aimed at helping Mexico fight the drug cartels with law enforcement training, military equipment and improved intelligence cooperation.

To help further strengthen the U.S. side of the border, the administration also plans to triple the number of Department of Homeland Security Intelligence analysts dedicated to stopping Mexican-related violence. It will also increase the number of immigration officials working in Mexico, double the number of "Violent Criminal Alien" teams on the border, strengthen the presence of border canine units, and quadruple the number of border liaison officers working with Mexican law enforcement.

It will also make an additional $59 million in federal funds available to support state, local and tribal border law enforcement operations.

At the same time, more agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives will be deployed to the border region. The agents will be given updated equipment and surveillance technology to help the track movement of cash, drugs and weapons.

"We are discussing more things we can do to address the very real problem of currency and weapons moving into Mexico and at the same time trying to prevent potential border spillover," one senior administration official said.

The announcement comes shortly ahead of a planned visit of three cabinet secretaries to Mexico before President Barack Obama visits there next month.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Mexico City this week, to be followed next week by Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Napolitano and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg both emphasized the cooperation and "courage" of Mexican President Felipe Calderon during the news conference announcing the policy changes. Calderon has been pushing back against U.S. criticism of drug cartel-related violence lately, arguing that the U.S. needs to take more responsibility for the recent increase in violence.

In his speeches and other public remarks, Calderon has repeatedly pointed out that much of the demand for drugs and most of the weapons used by narcotraffickers comes from the United States.

"Mexico believes we are not acknowledging the transitional nature of the problem and the role the U.S. is playing in this," another senior administration official said. "So we are looking at what U.S.law enforcement agencies can do to respond to the Mexican concerns."
–CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report


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