WASHINGTON -- The US government yesterday defended efforts by the United States and Mexico to stem violence and drug trafficking on the border following decisions by two Southwestern states to declare an emergency in their border counties.
In the last week, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico said the US government's inability to control crime and violence related to undocumented immigration was forcing them to take matters into their own hands.
Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the State Department, said the United States and Mexico are working together ''to address violence stemming from organized crime along the Mexican border." A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department said in an interview that the agency has made ''extraordinary progress" by adding new technology and beefing up the number of border patrol agents on the ground. It also has intensified its work in Arizona.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on Friday declared an emergency in four counties that he said have been ''devastated by the ravages and terror of human smuggling, drug smuggling, kidnapping, murder, destruction of property, and death of livestock."
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano followed suit in four more counties on Monday.
Arizona is the nation's busiest entry point for illegal border crossings. The federal government ''has not done what it needs to do and has promised to do" on the border, Napolitano said.
Their moves free up more than $3 million combined in state emergency dollars to pay for law enforcement overtime, repairs of border fences, and costs related to undocumented immigrants' deaths.
Members of Congress from both parties said the actions in Arizona and New Mexico prove the federal government must fix its immigration system.
''I'm surprised it took so long" for the governors to declare an emergency, said Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has cosponsored an immigration bill in the House. ''We have a huge problem here in Arizona."