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Drug Violence Prompts Stepped Up Security at U.S.-Mexico Border

BY   March 24, 2009 at 4:40 PM EDT

Photo of soldier in Mexico via Flickr

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that she’s considering whether to send National Guard reserves to the border and plans to discuss the matter further with Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Both he and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer have requested the deployment of soldiers, according to the New York Times.

The planned expansion of resources at the border comes as Mexico’s drug violence has killed more than 9,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006, the Associated Press reported.

“This issue requires immediate action,” Napolitano said in a statement. “We are guided by two very clear objectives. First, we are going to do everything we can to prevent the violence in Mexico from spilling over across the border. And second, we will do all in our power to help President Calderon crack down on these drug cartels in Mexico.”

The plan involves an interagency effort among the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and others. It includes new measures, such as focusing law enforcement and security efforts in the Southwest, and the continuation of existing programs to coordinate forensic data and intelligence on drug gangs with Mexican authorities, for example.

In addition to sending 360 more officers and agents to the border and into Mexico, the Department of Homeland Security plans to place new security equipment on the border to increase biometric identification, such as fingerprinting, at locations at the highest risk for violence. DHS also plans to implement 100 percent southbound rail screening, according to a department press release.

The agencies plan on placing more mobile X-ray units to screen passenger vehicles at the Southwest border, deploy 100 more border patrol agents along with teams of cross-trained canines that can detect both weapons and currency, according to DHS.

The Department of Justice plans to step up law enforcement efforts aimed at identifying and dismantling Mexican drug cartels and stemming the southbound flow of guns and cash that fuel violence and corruption.

Officials are also considering asking Congress for approval to shift tens of millions of dollars from enforcement of workplace immigration laws to border security. Republicans such as Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, spoke against such a request, the AP reported, saying workplace enforcement is of great importance in fighting border violence.

Other measures include placing more DEA agents in Southwest border field offices and creating a clearinghouse of all FBI activities involving Mexico.

In addition, the Office of Justice Programs plans to use $30 million in stimulus funds to help state and local law enforcement combat narcotics activity along the Southern border and in high-intensity drug trafficking areas.

Congress has appropriated $700 million to help Mexican law enforcement and judicial capacity.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to travel to Mexico this week to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to helping Mexican authorities deal with the deteriorating situation. President Obama is set to travel to Mexico in April.