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Strengthening law enforcement to fight border crime

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Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:00 am

The challenging fight against organized crime on both sides of the border can be waged most effectively when law enforcement strategies by both nations are closely coordinated. A series of top-level meetings in Mexico two weeks ago moved us significantly closer to maximizing our efforts.

A key priority in our fight must be reducing the flood of cash pouring from the United States to the international drug cartels based in Mexico. I was encouraged to hear so many senior Mexican law enforcement officials now share my belief that the most effective way to combat the cartels is by stemming the flow of illegal cash from the U.S. into the cartel’s pockets.

My office’s $94 million settlement with Western Union will give law enforcement in both countries important new resources. It will provide access to money transfer data on suspicious transactions, and it will allocate $50 million to bolster state and local law enforcement along the entire Southwest border.

When I arrived in Mexico City, I was met with sobering news. The newspaper headline reported that murders in the border city of Juarez were nearly eight times higher than the national average. Nogales, Sonora – right across the border from Nogales, Ariz. – is on a pace to have three times as many cartel-related murders this year than last.

The problem, of course, is the extreme violence spawned by the drug trade of Mexico’s powerful and brutal cartels. The cartels lure impoverished children out of the school system and into the violent drug, weapons and human smuggling trades, where many become killers, murder victims or both.

Violence has spilled into the U.S., and if not controlled soon, the cartels will establish a stronghold in our country to spread the terror they have brought to Central and South America. We cannot allow that to happen.

My first meeting in Mexico City was with the nation’s relatively new attorney general, Arturo Chavez Chavez, who was encouraged by the opportunities now available to law enforcement as a result of the Western Union settlement. I was impressed with his interest in partnering with Arizona to find solutions. President Felipe Calderon has directed his attorney general to focus more on disrupting the movement of money to the cartels.

I also met with the Public Safety Commission of the Mexican Congress. One congressman offered a particularly apt assessment of the problem. Referring to the international cartels, he remarked, “Crime has gone global, but crime fighting has not.” I could not agree more. I testified that we need bilateral law enforcement efforts to share and quickly pursue investigative leads on both sides of the border.

My team also sat down with Secretary Janet Napolitano, who happened to be in Mexico to sign a multinational pact on air security. She had been fully briefed on our Western Union settlement and was ready to explore new ways for the federal government to partner with Arizona on attacking border crime.

We talked about how to make the most of the new information and resources provided by the settlement. I was heartened by the secretary’s receptiveness to using federal Operation Stonegarden money as a match for the law enforcement grants from the settlement funds.

Napolitano also offered Homeland Security’s assistance in investigating suspicious transactions uncovered through data Western Union will provide, along with the possibility of housing a new state-federal-local border crimes task force in the new Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson.

Our final meeting was with the national commissioner of the Federal Police and the director of intelligence. I was pleased to learn that 5,000 newly trained Federal Police recruits have been deployed in the past three months, including 200 stationed in Nogales, Sonora. Given the current surge of violence there, this new deployment is an important new weapon against cartel violence.

The information exchanged and personal relationships forged on this trip will help us improve security on the border. Broadening efforts to diminish the flow of money can take us a long way toward our goal.

Working together, we can make it happen.

 

Terry Goddard is Arizona’s attorney general. The conference was Feb. 14-17 in Mexico City. For more information, visit www.azag.gov.

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