Homeland Security makes plans to protect border from violence
Mexico drug crime raises concerns
WASHINGTON - Tighter gun control and stronger law enforcement in Southwestern states were recommended yesterday by lawmakers concerned about drug violence in Mexico possibly spilling across the border.
The escalating violence - which has killed thousands, mostly south of the border - has been blamed on Mexican drug cartels which one Homeland Security official described as the biggest organized crime threat facing the United States.
Roger Rufe, Homeland Security's head of operations, outlined the agency's plans for protecting the border, a response that includes - as a last resort - deploying military personnel and equipment to the region if other agencies are overwhelmed.
Echoing comments a day earlier from President Obama, Rufe said there currently was no need to militarize the Southwestern border with Mexico, despite violence that threatens to migrate into the United States.
"We would take all resources short of DOD [Department of Defense] and National Guard troops before we reach that tipping point," he said before a House homeland security subcommittee. "We very much do not want to militarize our border." Rufe did not specify what circumstances would trigger a call for troops.
The violence is blamed on Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels over the past two years.
In recent weeks, his government has deployed 700 extra federal police to Ciudad Juarez, a city across from El Paso, Texas, where local police have been swamped by drug violence. This month, 3,200 federal troops were sent to the city.
Tijuana and Culiacan are also hotbeds of violence, according to Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.
"The United States and Mexico border violence can only be solved if we look at all parts of the equation," Representative John Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts, said yesterday during a House subcommittee considering changes to US gun laws.