Addressing Border Violence Must Be a Security Priority
The growing violence in Mexico has become one of the most pressing national security issues in America today. In Texas, with more than 1,200 miles of the nation’s 2,000 mile southern border, we bear the brunt of the security burden, and our border communities increasingly face the threats of crossover violence. El Paso residents are seeing first-hand the effects of drug-related violence in Mexico. Recently, stray bullets from a drug cartel gunfight taking place across the border in Juarez hit El Paso’s City Hall. Not long after that incident, a building at the University of Texas at El Paso was hit by stray bullets.
Thankfully, no one was hurt in either of those incidents. But we should all be alarmed at this escalation. Until now, American communities have been largely shielded from the violence raging in Mexico. But every day, there are new reports of horrific violence occurring across the border.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an aggressive war against the cartels after taking office in 2006, but the cartels are violently fighting back. In four years, the drug-related violence has resulted in 28,000 deaths in Mexico. In 2009 alone, there were nearly 10,000 organized crime deaths in Mexico. And so far this year, there have been well over 3,000 killings, including the murders of American embassy employees and their family members in Mexico. In August, Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of 72 people who are thought to have been brutally murdered by cartels running human smuggling operations. This massacre happened only 85 miles south of Brownsville. And in the space of two weeks, two mayors of Mexican cities were assassinated by drug cartels.
The criminal activity is spilling over into our communities and stretching our law enforcement and court systems thin. The U.S. Judicial Districts of Southern and Western Texas represent two of the top five most crime-ridden districts in our country. On a typical day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials arrest over 100 criminals at ports of entry, seize over 7,000 pounds of narcotics, and apprehend roughly 2,100 individuals attempting to illegally enter the United States. More must be done at every level of government to secure our borders and to ensure the continued safety of border communities.
Last month, Congress passed a $600 million supplemental border security bill. The bill allows Customs and Border Protection to hire 1,500 new agents to patrol the southern border and ports of entry. It will create a specialized “strike force” to be deployed to different parts of the border, allowing law enforcement to focus on areas with the greatest need as they emerge. The bill will allow federal border enforcement agencies and state and local law officials to better communicate and coordinate efforts. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice will also receive funding to hire more agents, investigators, attorneys, and other law enforcement personnel. I also strongly support another effort to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to the southwest border. The National Guard would help CBP get operational control of the southwest border, and it would augment our security forces until a continued scale up and training of Border Patrol agents can take place.
My Senate colleagues and I are also pushing for Customs and Border Patrol to obtain and operate daily flights of unmanned aerial vehicles. Aerial surveillance using unmanned drones is a force multiplier, and it allows border enforcement officials to more efficiently and consistently monitor the border and respond to illicit activity.
On August 1, President Obama deployed the first of a total of 1,200 additional National Guard members to help border patrol officials and local law enforcement. However, spreading 1,200 National Guardsmen over four states is an insufficient response to a national security priority. Texas alone has asked for 1,000 National Guard troops, and Arizona has asked for 3,000 National Guard troops.
I recently traveled to various communities along Texas’ southern border, where I had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Border Patrol Agents and hear directly about their challenges. This direct contact is invaluable in order to get a true perspective of the situation on the ground. The men and women of the Border Patrol are defending our nation, and we must never waiver in our commitment to support them as they do their jobs.
Border security is a national security issue. And we must treat it as such. As President Reagan said, “a nation without borders is not a nation.” That is why securing our borders cannot just be a Texas priority. It must be a national priority.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.