Saturday, March 21, 2009

BORDER: US and Mexico can win the fight with drug cartels

Fort Worth Star Telegram
March 20, 2009
by Chad Foster
Op-ed by the Mayor of Eagle Pass, TX

What are the three safest cities in the United States?

No. 1 is San Jose, Calif. No. 2 is Honolulu — and America’s third safest city is El Paso.

If you have been watching cable TV lately, El Paso is a shocker. Cable news wants you to believe that violence from the Mexican drug cartels is spilling blood into the streets of U.S. communities on the Mexican border.

There is a pretty strong consensus among Texas border mayors and county judges, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and President Obama that the cable news version is not so.

Crime on the Texas border is on the way down after decreasing 65 percent over the past several years. Apprehensions of illegal border crossers are down more than 40 percent, and that was before they started building a fence.

The reason for this success in securing the Texas-Mexico border includes more local police, effective policies that punish bad guys and an increase in the number of Border Patrol agents. Most recently, the numbers have continued to decline but are not yet in the data, because of the nation’s economic downturn.

So what is really happening on the border?

President Felipe Calderón of Mexico is fighting for his country and ours by confronting the transnational drug cartels. The fight is concentrated in a few parts of northern Mexico.

It is a very difficult fight against a tough, well-armed and well-financed enemy. The drug cartels are supplying the United States with vast quantities of narcotics and marijuana and receiving billions of dollars and stockpiles of weapons in return.

Because Calderón is taking on a powerful enemy, some academics and government officials warn that Mexico is on the brink of becoming a "failed state."

The Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials and business leaders in the Texas counties that border Mexico, disagree. Calderón has not lost any part of Mexican territory and there is no indication that Mexico is falling apart.

Rather, the Calderón government has engaged in a fight to defeat the cartels and the United States ought to join him for the sake of our own national interest.

We are working with Mexico through the Merida Initiative, sharing equipment and training with Mexican troops. But it is only half of the solution. The other half demands a border security policy that attacks real problems instead of pretending to cure the problem by walling off our neighbor.

The Texas Border Coalition recommends a strategy that delivers the balance of Merida Initiative training and equipment, and implements a strategy to stop the drugs and guns from crossing our bridges.

And that is where the illegal traffic occurs: on the bridges. There is too much risk to million-dollar drug cargoes to try to cross between the ports of entry. The drugs, money and arms (and most of America’s undocumented aliens) cross on the international bridges.

To make sure that Calderón wins the fight against the drug cartels, the Texas Border Coalition supports:

Z-Ports X-ray devices for each traveling lane at every land port of entry to identify drugs, money and guns being smuggled in hidden compartments in cars and trucks crossing the Rio Grande;

Overtime funding for local police to secure their assistance in conducting southbound checks for firearms and cash under Customs and Border Patrol control and supervision;

Use of National Guard troops to provide intelligence and logistics support and training;

More Border Patrol agents dispatched from areas between the ports of entry to the land ports with appropriate training; and

More infrastructure, technology and personnel at the land ports of entry to curtail drug smuggling and other criminal activity.

We have presented our plan to the Texas Legislature and are taking it to the U.S. Congress, Department of Homeland Security and the White House. With a smart, concerted effort, the U.S. and Mexico can win this war.

Chad Foster is chairman of the Texas Border Coalition and mayor of Eagle Pass.

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