Napolitano Targets Border Violence
Homeland Security Chief Seeks to Stem Flow of Cash, Guns to Mexican Gangs
By CAM SIMPSON
WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration would soon unveil a plan for dealing with rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including more resources to stem the flow of dollars and guns to warring drug gangs.
Mexico-U.S.: A Violent Border
The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about the risks that rising violence in northern Mexico could spill over into U.S.
"I think there will be some announcements with some specifics that either I or the president will be making in the coming weeks," Ms. Napolitano said Friday during an interview.
Ms. Napolitano said the plan would include more resources aimed at stopping U.S.-acquired firearms and cash earned from illicit drug sales flowing back across the border. Money and guns are fueling the escalating violence in Mexico that is spilling into U.S. communities, including in Arizona. Ms. Napolitano was the state's governor before joining the Obama cabinet.
Ms. Napolitano revealed few specifics of the new effort, but said special task forces run by DHS -- uniting federal, state and local law enforcement -- would get greater attention. Those task forces are aimed specifically at the Mexican cartels' guns and cash, but currently have no designated funding.
Ms. Napolitano indicated there would be more so-called outbound enforcement: checking people and vehicles leaving the U.S. to see if they are carrying contraband. She said those efforts wouldn't hamper the job of stopping illegal immigration into the U.S.
"We can do significant things," she said. "And you know we're not -- let me be very, very clear -- we are not removing border-protection agents who are between the ports of entry guarding our border. We are not doing that. We need those people....We need those boots on the ground on illegal immigration."
Mexican drug gangs are warring over lucrative trade routes into the U.S. At the same time, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has mobilized his military in a two-year crackdown on drug trafficking. An estimated 7,000 people have died in drug-related homicides since 2008.
Ms. Napolitano on Friday cited stepped-up planning by the Obama administration on the issue, as more public attention is directed toward Mexico's violence and its potential to spill over the border.
"I can say that there are several cabinet- and security-level departments that are working with us now and looking at what can be done," she said, "not only to protect the U.S. side of the border and Americans on the U.S. side, but also to work with President Calderon, because it is in our joint interest that these drug cartels be demolished." She didn't give details.
Susan Ginsburg, who heads the security program at the Migration Policy Institute, a centrist think tank in Washington, said the administration should create a plan that joins foreign and domestic policy, as well as domestic agencies that can often clash over turf.
"There hasn't been a coordinated plan," Ms. Ginsburg said. "There haven't been enough resources. And the agencies involved don't always play too well together."
Although there has been no new funding announced, Ms. Napolitano has asked U.S. border agents to work harder. On Friday, two of the four top issues trumpeted on the DHS Web site were gun seizures and cash seizures.
"We already are beginning to increase our operation of looking at guns and cash going southbound, because it's those guns and cash that are fueling the battle against Calderon and...the very, very violent battle in Mexico," Ms. Napolitano said.
She is expected to appear before the Senate Homeland Security Committee to address the issue on March 25.