Obama border strategy emphasizes enforcement

On a whirl-wind tour of the Southwest late last week, senior members of the Barack Obama administration laid out the White House strategy for border security, narcotics control and immigration reform. And contrary to the expectations of some border residents and advocates who were betting on a new approach last January, the new administration’s strategic policy thrust mainly follows and even expands on the course long pursued by previous Democratic and Republican administrations. A solid alliance with the CalderĂłn administration in Mexico City is a key component of the Obama border policy.

During the Albuquerque portion of the trip, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano swore in a new 21-member Homeland Security Advisory Council Southwest Border Task Force. The purpose of the new body, Napolitano said in a statement, will be to “present me with concrete recommendations to address the complex challenges we face in this region.”

Chairing the task force is former CIA and FBI director William Webster.

Appointed members include James Jones, former US ambassador to Mexico and a CEO of Mannatt Jones Global Strategies; Jeffrey Davidow, also former US ambassador to Mexico and president of the Institute of the Americas; Maria Luisa Connell, CEO of Border Trade Alliance and a former employee of the National Federation of Merchants of Colombia; and Victor Flores of the Arizona Public Service utility company. Additional members include the chairman of Arizona’s Tohono O’odham Nation, the mayors of San Diego and El Paso, private sector representatives and law enforcement officials, among others.

The generous appointment of law enforcement and private sector representatives to top advisory positions reflects the Obama administration’s goal of relying on technology to tighten up border security while facilitating the flow of commerce between Mexico and the US—a tricky proposition given the long lines of traffic and pedestrians that have been jamming some US ports of entry in recent months.

With the exception of National Council of La Raza board chair Andrea Bazan, no individuals from the human rights, civil liberties, labor, environmental or immigrant advocacy fields were appointed to the new advisory group. Physician Evelyn M. RodrĂ­guez, who once worked on pharmaceutical drug safety at the US Food and Drug Administration, will serve on the task force, as will Robert Ross, the head of the California Endowment health foundation.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was not present at the Albuquerque swearing-in ceremony for the new task force. Richardson’s office later told a New Mexico online news service that the governor had prior commitments to attend a US Border Patrol ceremony and a boating officer award event.

The Devil in the details
On the eve of the Arizona and New Mexico trip, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano outlined her department’s four priorities in a presentation at the Aspen Institute. In order of importance, Napolitano listed anti-terrorism, border security, immigration law enforcement and natural disaster response.

In terms of immigration law enforcement, Napolitano told her audience that the Department of Homeland Security would request more funding for the e-Verify computer system that checks the residency status of job applicants.

On their tour, Napolitano and other administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, detailed other planned administration actions. Increased financial assistance to law enforcement agencies, police checks of US citizens headed to Mexico, countering money laundering and stepping up prosecutions of drug traffickers are major elements of the White House border strategy.

Scanners, dog teams and weight scales to detect cash-laden or contraband-laden vehicles will be put to greater use on the border. According to Napolitano, border crime fighting strategies will be applied to communities within the interior of the US as well.

In Albuquerque, Napolitano stressed the importance of controversial “fusion” centers for the success of the US endeavor. A kind of central clearinghouse for intelligence and law enforcement information, the centers were criticized in a 2008 report by the American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly acting as dry, bottomless fishing holes for police agencies casting a wide net of suspicion.

Even before the ink on headlines dried, some critics lashed out against the White House’s drug war strategy.

“The new plan simply calls for rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Aaron Houston of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that claims 26,000 members. Advocating that marijuana be regulated like alcohol, Houston contended that any policy initiative relegating cannabis use to the control of criminal organizations is “nothing but a full-employment plan for professional drug warriors and cartel bosses alike…”

The Obama administration’s prioritization of border security over immediate immigration reform was spelled out in a June 4 interview of border czar Alan Bersin with journalist and KUNM radio News Director Jim Williams in Albuquerque.

Bersin laid out three pre-conditions for comprehensive immigration reform, including border enforcement, workplace enforcement and “interior” enforcement directed at 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. The border czar defined interior enforcement as deporting undocumented persons who commit crimes in this country.

“They need to be identified, arrested and removed from this country,” Bersin told Williams. For immigration reform to be politically palpable, Bersin argued, the current focus had to be on law enforcement.

“It’s enforcement, enforcement, enforcement that has to take place for those conditions to exist,” Bersin said.

Securing the border before reforming immigration policy was a policy position staked out by Republican Presidential candidate John McCain during last year’s campaign.

In the KUNM interview, Williams asked Bersin about the issue of corruption within the ranks of the Mexican army, especially the recent arrests of 12 active-duty Mexican soldiers who were accused of working for the Zetas drug gang in Aguascalientes (see El Universal, March 4).

While acknowledging that corruption had “popped up” in the Mexican military, Bersin differentiated the armed forces from local and state police forces and the judiciary. Mexico’s military, he said, is “the lever on which President Calderon is attempting this historic transformation of Mexico, and it is one in which we are heavily invested and one in which we see are own national security implicated.”

Though recognizing a recent “spike” in violence, Bersin credited the deployment of the Mexican army for significantly reducing violence in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez.

Press reports showed a short-lived reduction in violence after the Mexican army was first deployed in Ciudad Juárez in early 2008, but an unprecedented increase in the months afterward. A similar pattern occurred this year, when extra troops were sent in to bolster the anti-drug campaign at the end of February. In recent weeks, however, violence has reached almost unimaginable levels in the embattled border city. On June 5, for example, at least 13 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez.

On the day Bersin was in Albuquerque, Mexican soldiers were accused of beating or roughing up a group of journalists in Ciudad Juárez. The journalists were attempting to photograph the aftermath of a traffic accident involving soldiers. Vehicular mishaps caused by soldiers or federal police flying through the streets has have received growing media attention in the tense border city.

Ciudad Juárez’s El Diario newspaper protested the attack on the journalists in an open letter to President Felipe CalderĂłn. Adrian Ventura Lares, president of the Society of Journalists and communicators characterized the incident as an assault on freedom of expression.

“Juárez society is tired of the abuses that are happening because of the military’s illegal searches and transgressions of fundamental principles,” Ventura said. “We are not in a state of siege and the freedom to inform exists.”

Washington’s full-tilt backing of the Mexican military runs the risk of alienating growing sectors of Mexican society that want the army back in its barracks. Ignoring a plea from dozens of prominent Mexican human rights organizations, the US House of Representatives voted last month to grant the Mexican government an extra $470 million in anti-drug assistance, including Blackhawk helicopters.

In Ciudad Juárez alone, more than 200 human rights complaints against the Mexican army have been filed with the official Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission since last year. Additionally, the number of complaints against the army received by a special office of the Ciudad Juárez municipal government grew from 109 in early April to nearly 550 by the first week of June.

The complaints—some of which have been challenged by the army—allege numerous instances of soldiers illegally searching homes and mistreating residents. Serious allegations of murder, torture and robbery have also been made.

Reportedly, the military has opened internal investigations of 162 cases for the period running from March 2008 to mid-April 2009. Responding to an inquiry from El Diario newspaper, Mexican General Cruz Isaac Muñoz Navarro was quoted as saying that no criminal sanctions have been levied against military personnel because of the ongoing nature of investigations.

On the US side of the border, meanwhile, Bersin contended drug cartel violence was not significantly spilling into this country as claimed by some recent news headlines. He said immigrant-smuggler violence in places like Arizona was characteristic of long-standing border crime as opposed to cartel-fanned violence. In remarks to the Albuquerque Journal, Bersin rejected proposals for decriminalizing drug use. Such a policy, he said, would be tantamount to “throwing up your hands.”

Overall, the Obama-CalderĂłn anti-drug strategy aims at busting up several large organized crime organizations into smaller, more manageable ones, according to Bersin. The border czar praised a “sea change” in the willingness of both governments to take off the gloves and truly fight the drug war.

Fumbling the immigration Hot Potato?
With the immigration reform issue creeping back onto the agenda again, the Obama administration’s emphasis on toughened border security is now the controlling variable in the timing and the character of any reform package that might emerge.

At the grassroots level, the newly-formed Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) is mobilizing in communities across the US to pressure the president in keeping to his campaign pledge of a pathway for legalization of undocumented residents.

“I want to tell our Congressional leaders that New Mexico’s immigrant families need some relief,” said Mabel Serrano, a student member of the Somos un Pueblo organization of New Mexico. “We work side by side with US citizens. We go to school together. We go to church together.”

Washington-based Latino rights and immigrant advocacy groups are optimistic the Democrat-controlled Congress and White House will pass favorable legislation. They point to recent Senate hearings and the planned June 17 summit between President Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders as positive signs that action is forthcoming.

How soon action will be taken is the million-dollar question. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week that immigration reform would be the third big legislative priority for 2009, preceded by two other thorny and time-consuming issues-health care and energy policy.

Meantime, details of a possible immigration reform package are beginning to appear in the press. Among the measures under consideration on Capitol Hall are proposals to extend guest-worker programs from agriculture to all economic sectors.

Some analysts and observers are skeptical the Obama White House will be able to muster up an immigration reform.

Americas Policy analyst Tom Barry, for example, recently wrote that the emerging border security and immigration enforcement commitments “have come without any persuasive demonstration by the administration or Congress that they are firmly committed to immigration reform.”

The new president, Barry conceded, has a difficult challenge “to lay out a persuasive case for a new immigration policy including legalization measures at a time of economic crisis and little principled resolve among congressional Democrats.”

Calls for immigration reform were echoed at the June 5-6 encounter between Mexican and US legislators in Seattle, Washington. Prior to the Seattle meet, the vice-coordinator of the center-left PRD party in the Mexican Senate said that he held out a few hopes for a US immigration reform but did not expect much to happen.

“I know how negative the gringos are,” said Senator Silvano Aureoles Conejo, “and that they don’t want to go to the root of the problem.” (Frontera NorteSur, June 7)

See our last posts on Mexico’s narco wars, the struggle for the border and the and politics of immigration

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  1. MANDATE E-Verify
    NO question that E-Verify should be in-perpetuity, as it’s being modified and updated according to the information I have read from Homeland Security. Of course their is a lot of consternation about it’s operation, mainly because the businesses that are not using it yet have been brain washed by US. Chamber of Commerce, ACLU and other organizations, who have suspicious reasons for their rhetoric. Then again much of it is consistent lies and propaganda, to attempt to destroy the illegal immigrant worker–ATTRITION–E-Verify computer application. The public should remember where the US Chamber of Commerce and the ACLU get their working capitol from? The free traders and all businesses that enjoy the movement of cheap labor, that cuts into their profits.

    These are parasites not only prey on the illegal impoverished nationals, but the American taxpayer as well. Mandated taxes–FORCED–on all of us, because over the years we have no enforcement at our borders. We the American people have been left in the dark, happy and ignorant, while our borders have remained methodically unsealed. Many of our lawmakers have been corrupted by Campaign contributions, gifts and large sums of money hidden in brown paper bags. Our country continues to bleed by massive remittances sent out the country by illegal labor. That through many administrations we continue to hemorrhaging from paying all illegal family costs. Hundreds of billions of dollars are hidden in government appropriations, exactly like–EARMARKS–so the public are never aware. California–A SANCTUARY STATE–has committed financially suicide since proposition 187 mysteriously disappeared under liberal judges. We are forever paying benefits for illegal aliens, who dodges our undermanned border. Our Immigration law is not broken, it’s just the non-enforcement of the 1986 Simpson/Mazzoli bill. The law works–perhaps too good–so now they must remove it and open the gates wide for the next hordes of illegal alien labor. By taking–OUT–the 1986 law they can spring on us another immigration law that is weaker and allow 20 million or more stay here. All the criminals, all the fraudulent ID users, all the welfare beneficiaries legal or not? Our borders have never been sealed the free traders are against it. So are the radical anti-sovereignty groups like La Raza, who want erode the America we know, by bring in millions more poor from South of the border.

    For decades tourist over-stayers have never been brought to justice, because the US immigration authorities, were unaware if these people left the country or not? In this administration the politicians who are responsible for compromising immigration enforcement Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and others, who are now gainfully employed by–TAXPAYERS. Yet many corrupt politicians spend their time in Washington, undermining any worthwhile laws, to lower the people taxes. Already Homeland security Napolitano has ceased and all but deceased ICE raids, yet she says she supports E-Verify? Just these spotlighted legislators in closed to the public scrutiny sessions are pushing another AMNESTY. Which means even more higher taxes, to pay for extended family reunification that will definitely have adverse monetary impact on our senior Social security. Bloggers never are given enough room to comment, so take a minute to think of how your taxes will accelerates upwards by finding the facts at NUMBERSUSA, JUDICIAL WATCH.

    1. too much time
      > Bloggers never are given enough room to comment, so take a minute to think of how your taxes will accelerates

      The argument could be made that bloggers are given too much room to comment. How come is it that none of you clowns passed high school English? THIS IS AMERICA LEARN THE LANGUAGE!!!

    2. Immigration enforcement will cut taxes?
      “The aim of these trolls is not to encourage debate but to stifle it with wordy diatribes and innumerable factual errors,” I wrote about “Brittanicus” a couple of months ago.

      The interesting thing about his latest comment is that now “Brittanicus” is ranting in favor of border and workplace enforcement policies on the claim that they’ll cut government spending and keep us from paying more taxes. Did he read the article posted on WW4 Report last fall in which I cited a number of studies to show just the opposite? (“The Great Wall of Boeing“) “If border walls and workplace raids are only helping to keep wages down for everyone, and aren’t even slowing migration, why do we keep paying for them?” I asked then. “Is this just another corporate bailout, for companies that aren’t even failing?”

      The article originally appeared at MRzine. Brittanicus and his fellow trolls could have posted criticisms there. They didn’t. Maybe they couldn’t think of an answer to my questions.