Justice in Mexico

Obama administration continues to define its southwest border strategy

In early June, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske and Attorney General Eric Holder announced the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. The initiative emphasizes operational collaboration and information sharing among federal law enforcement agencies, between federal and local agencies, as well as between U.S. and Mexican counterparts. The initiative will also deploy increased technology and agents to points of entry along the southwest border to curb the flow of drugs northbound and weapons and illicit cash southbound.

On Monday June 15, Janet Napolitano announced an initiative signed by U.S. and Mexican officials to increase inspections of southbound vehicles for weapons and money. The agreement, signed by Napolitano and Mexico’s minister of finance and public credit Agustin Carstens, also outlines a plan for a standardized form to facilitate the crossing of tourists and workers from both countries. According to the Arizona Republic, the measure also calls for the United States to help train an estimated 1500 new Mexican customs officers.

An investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that U.S. efforts to slow the flow of weapons south across the border have suffered from a lack of coordination until recently between the United States and Mexico, and poor communication between U.S. enforcement agencies. The GAO is the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

The report points to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in particular for failing to coordinate their efforts to curb gun smuggling. U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, chair of the GAO subcommittee, questioned why there was not a comprehensive plan to combat arms trafficking integrated into the Merida Initiative, a US$1.4 billion effort to aid Mexico in combating drug cartels moving drugs into the United States. The report cited specific examples of the ATF conducting trans-border operations without notifying ICE of its activities, and of cases in which the two agencies refused to share documentation required for investigations.

There has been some debate as to the percentage of weapons in the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels originating in the United States, GAO director of Internal Affairs and Trade Jess T. Ford points out that over the past 5 years over 20,000 firearms seized by Mexican authorities were traced back to the United States, accounting for around 87 percent of all traceable weapons.

From the June Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report:


Kelly, Erin. “US, Mexico partner on border checks.” Arizona Republic June 16, 2009.
“Obama Administration Announces National southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy.” Office of National drug Control Policy
website: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov. Accessed June 16, 2009.
Barrett, Devlin and Eileen Sullivan. “Report Faults US efforts to curb gun smuggling.” Associate Press June 17, 2009.

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