US agents to get new powers to fight drugs
WASHINGTON - More federal agents will be able to investigate drug cases under a new agreement between government agencies battling Mexican cartels, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress yesterday.
Under a new deal aimed at settling a long-running turf dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration, more agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would get authority to investigate drug cases.
The new agreement is a victory for the customs agency, which has long chafed at restrictions on how and when it conducts drug investigations.
It also shows the Obama administration’s willingness to change long-established law enforcement procedures to aid the fight against the powerful and violent drug cartels operating within Mexico.
The agreement would remove the cap on the number of customs agents who can conduct drug investigations, and from now on customs agents will be able to conduct foreign drug investigations in coordination with the DEA, according to officials.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been announced.
At a Senate hearing yesterday, Holder told Senator Charles Schumer an announcement was imminent on a new agreement between the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Currently, only some customs agents have what is called Title 21 authority. The agency has tried for years to expand the number of Title 21 authorized agents through negotiations. The most recent agreement was in 1994. Since then, there have been constant disputes over what authority the agreement gives customs agents.