San Diego Union-Tribune
Thursday, April 02, 2009
In response to escalating violence along the Southwest border region and the rising influence of Mexico's drug cartels, the Obama administration, under the leadership of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, recently unveiled its Southwest Border Security Initiative. There is no question that a comprehensive and effective strategy to control our border with Mexico is urgently needed – but this plan falls short of that objective.
The threat presented by Mexico's drug cartels, a force that is estimated to consist of more than 100,000 individuals, is far too serious to ignore. Communities and law enforcement on both sides of the border are at constant risk as these drug networks increase their production and smuggling of illegal narcotics into the United States.
Over the past year, there have been more 7,000 deaths attributed to border violence. More than 1,000 of these deaths occurred in January of this year alone. Comparatively, there have been roughly 600 reported deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the first two months of 2009 due to ongoing insurgent activity – 63 of which were American military personnel.
These figures put into perspective the significant challenges we face along our southern land border and the immediate need for a comprehensive border security strategy. Border security cannot be limited to just personnel, nor can it be limited to just technology or infrastructure. Effectively securing the border will require a combination of these approaches, as well as better coordination between our federal agencies.
While Secretary Napolitano's plan rightly sends surveillance equipment and an additional 360 agents to the border, it is unclear whether the Department of Homeland Security intends to build upon the success of existing border infrastructure and security fencing. The plan unveiled by Napolitano avoids expanding this infrastructure despite the fact that it remains the most effective and readily available enforcement mechanism available.
Without adequate fencing and accompanying infrastructure, regardless of how many agents are patrolling the border or how much technology is deployed, our border with Mexico will not be fully secured. Fencing in San Diego and Yuma, Ariz., once considered two of the most prolific smuggling corridors in the country, has proven to be an effective deterrent to illegal foot and vehicle traffic. Unfortunately, this much-needed infrastructure does not appear to be part of the Obama administration's border control initiative.
It would be wise for Napolitano to consider building additional infrastructure wherever needed and complement it with the appropriate mix of surveillance technology and personnel. Equally important, the Obama administration must begin working to improve coordination between the departments of Justice and Homeland Security when it comes to border control.
According to reports, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is refusing to authorize some of its agents to fully participate in several special task forces created by Homeland Security that target the movement of firearms and money from the United States to Mexico. Cooperation between these and other agencies is essential to our border control efforts, and any disputes obstructing coordination should be immediately resolved.
Another challenge facing Napolitano's border security initiative are outdated guidelines for joint investigations on firearms, money laundering and narcotics trafficking. Current guidelines, for example, limit drug investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to about 1,500 across the country. That is because the Drug Enforcement Agency – not ICE – maintains primary jurisdiction over these investigations. This restriction among others must be adjusted to reflect the realities of today's border environment.
Achieving a secure and enforceable border will require more than just the technology and personnel outlined in the Southwest Border Security Initiative. It will require a comprehensive approach that balances these elements with the necessary amount of infrastructure, including underused assets such as unmanned aerial vehicles, and an emphasis on federal resource sharing and inter-agency cooperation.
Over the coming weeks and months, the Obama administration must make border security a priority and reevaluate the Southwest Border Security Initiative. We need a strategy that will have an immediate and lasting impact and serve to gain control of our border once and for all.
Hunter represents the 52nd Congressional District, which includes central and eastern San Diego County.
Prisons are surrounded by multiple high barbed-wire walls, a no-man's land between walls, turrets with armed guards, stadium-size lighting, ground sensors for would-be tunnel diggers and 24/7 armed guards. Visitors are searched and pass through metal-detection equipment. In high security prisons, visitors are kept away from inmates talking only by a hand-held phone with glass window in between.
With all the walls and security, drugs are readily available in prisons.
So maybe Congressmen Brian Bilbray and Duncan D. Hunter can explain if drugs can't be kept out of walled and fully secured prisons, how will a 2,000-mile wall and several divisions of military personnel keep drugs out of the country? In part, they say, the problem is Mexican corruption, and of course there is much truth to that. But we must then address that drug smuggling into prisons can only be accomplished through corruption, and once drugs cross into the United States en route to destinations, there must also be corruption at some levels within the United States. Why do they not address these issues?
Will demand for illicit drugs vanish by keeping them from coming through the U.S.-Mexico border? Can we then declare victory over the drug war?
Before Mexico's drug war escalated to the point it has, Bilbray and former Congressman Duncan L. Hunter, whose son, Duncan D. Hunter, inherited his seat on retirement, insisted the wall was needed to stop illegal immigrants, suggesting that would solve the illegal immigration problem, which of course it hasn't. Then after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was to keep both illegal immigrants and terrorists out. Now it has changed to stopping drugs and the spillover of Mexico's bloody war on drugs.
Both cheap labor and illicit drugs coming from Mexico are based on demand – so that if demand is not stopped, how then is the supply to be stopped? Surely then, they must believe that a border wall and military deployment will stop the demand. If they don't believe this, why then are they asking taxpayers to throw away several billion dollars on such an ill-advised project?
True nonpartisan, nonpolitical experts on immigration issues have concluded that to stop the torrent of illegal border crossers, the demand for their services must be stopped. And these same experts advise that the nation needs immigration reform, not fences and border military personnel.
And the experts conclude that stopping demand and providing drug treatment to addicts and education to our young are what will stop smuggling and local production of serious quantities of illicit drugs.
But there are those who suggest that drug usage is a given that cannot be stopped. If this is the case, then it must also be a given that drug smuggling and local production cannot be stopped.
Without addressing usage, attempts at stopping drug smuggling and domestic production and drug dealing are doomed to failure regardless of how much money and human resources are dedicated to the task.
Until recently and only after President Felipe Calderón of Mexico voiced his displeasure at the United States not doing enough to stop gun smuggling into Mexico and drug usage in the United States, did Washington take notice as did U.S. media.
U.S. media have dedicated reporting almost exclusively to the bloody battles fought in Mexico between drug gangs seeking smuggling corridor monopolies into the United States and to the Mexican military's and law enforcement's gun battles and casualties, and of course the ever present reporting on Mexican corruption.
Recently, the secondary reporting has been on the potential spillover of violence into the United States. But little attention or just in passing is it mentioned that the war was fueled by U.S. drug usage due to the billions of dollars our market represents.
Has such reporting stopped usage or spared one life in Mexico? Have drug cartels taken notice and scaled down their viciousness and atrocities? Have gun-selling profiteers stopped selling? There is no indication that it has.
The one thing that such reporting has done, however, is that it has devastated the economy of all Mexican border cities and regions largely dependent on U.S. tourism, creating massive unemployment and economic chaos as is readily visible in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach and Ensenada.
All members of San Diego's congressional delegation should stress to their district's citizens the necessity of stamping out illicit drug usage, not once, not twice, but as many times as it takes to get the attention of all San Diegans as to the real danger our entire region faces. And it would certainly be a good step forward for the region's media to follow suit.
Osio is co-founder of TransBorder Communications in San Ysidro. He can be reached at POsioJr@aol.com .
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