San Antonio Express News
April 8, 2010
by Gary Martin
WASHINGTON — U.S. border cities are not experiencing spillover violence from Mexico and extra security efforts must include measures to expedite legitimate trade between the two countries, the new head of Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday.
Commissioner Alan Bersin said U.S. security measures on borders with Mexico and Canada should be carried out in a way that improves the efficiency of trade so America can remain competitive globally.
Securing the border and expediting trade are not mutually exclusive — “The two go hand in hand,” he said in a meeting with reporters.
Bersin took office last week on a recess appointment by President Barack Obama.
A former U.S. attorney in San Diego, Calif., Bersin said the escalation of violence in Mexico is a result of President Felípe Calderón's crackdown on drug cartels.
The violence has claimed the lives of U.S. consulate workers in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and smugglers are suspected in the death of an Arizona man March 27 on his border ranch.
But incidents of violence in U.S. cities near Mexico cannot be compared with the level of lawlessness across the border, Bersin said.
“When we say ‘spillover violence' we are speaking of the kind of violence that we are seeing in Mexico that we haven't seen in the United States. That's not to deny the reality of violence that's attributable to organized crime based in Mexico,” Bersin said.
Mexican officials say drug violence has claimed the lives of nearly 18,000 people since Calderón's crackdown began in 2006.
Juárez emerged as a battleground last year, and a wave of gunbattles and executions beginning in February in the northern Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel warning there.
Texas officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, have asked the Obama administration to send the National Guard and other resources to the border.
Cornyn said Bersin's claim of “no spillover violence is evidence that the Obama administration is sticking its collective head in the sand with regard to the safety of our border communities.”
Bersin and Cornyn are in agreement, however, that border security should not impede legitimate trade. Bersin said prescreening of travelers and shippers could help take pressure off border crossings.
U.S. trade with Mexico exceeds $1 billion per day, according to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
Even with prescreening, land ports of entry on both borders need $6 billion in upgrades and repairs and 5,000 more customs agents, said Monica Weisberg Stewart, a McAllen businesswoman who chairs the Texas Border Coalition committee on border security.
The coalition is a group of community leaders from Brownsville to El Paso who act as a lobbying arm for border cities and chambers of commerce.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Weisberg Stewart said. “Let's see him put the resources and manpower at the ports of entry.”