Lawmakers say the options are clear when it comes to funding for drug related violence along the U.S. Mexico Border. Either Congress sends additional resources to the border, or they watch the violence unfold across the Rio Grande.
U.S. Reps Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Ruben Hinojosa, D-McAllen, along with eight congressmen representing the border in Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico are urging House leadership to approve emergency funds to combat the cartels.
The members of the Congressional Border Caucus, led by House Select Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D- El Paso, last week sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting that emergency funds to secure the southern border be included in the fiscal year 2010 emergency supplemental package. The bill is currently being drafted by the House Committee on Appropriations.
“We are at a tipping point,” said Cuellar, who Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism. “Our border communities have braced themselves for a spillover of violence and the burden is falling on local law enforcement at home. This is why we have laid out a framework with concrete numbers for Congress to move on.”
Cuellar's congressional district includes 220 miles along the Texas southern border including his hometown of Laredo, positioned alongside the Rio Grande. Two weeks ago, an unknown attacker threw a bomb at the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo just across the river in neighboring Mexico.
Two weeks ago, Reyes, Cuellar and Ed Pastor of Arizona met with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon to discuss the future of the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative, a cooperative effort between the United States and Mexico to combat drug and weapons trafficking. Multiple reports indicate that of the $830 million allocated to Merida since 2007, just $128 million has been received in military equipment and training in Mexico.
“Either we immediately send additional resources to our border or we wait and watch the violence unfold across the Rio Grande. Our options are clear and we need Congress to move,” Cuellar said.
Topping the list is a request for $200 million to support law enforcement’s communications capabilities in remote areas along the border where there are known critical needs, plus an additional $50 million for Operation Stonegarden which assists the collaborative efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement in fighting border related violence, weapons and drug trafficking.
Congressmen have requested $100 million to help Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sustain border agent salaries in the face of budget deficits at the nation’s land ports. They have also requested a minimum of $70 million to hire an additional 500 CBP officers to immediately alleviate understaffed ports of entry
“I have been listening to and reading news reports and hearing from my constituents that the violence along the border is increasing at a horrific level”, said Rep. Hinojosa. “I along with the other Congressmen who represent the border know that something must be done by our federal government and it needs to be done now.
“We must support our federal agents along the border. We must make sure they have all that is necessary to help them protect themselves, our residents and our border. We must also continue our support for our sister cities along the border in Mexico which are in such turmoil due to the violence brought about by drug traffickers," Hinojosa said.
More than $32 million has been requested to help CBP hire 207 border patrol agents for the southern border to avoid straining existing human resources or deplete CBP assets from other areas. Members also asked for $39.6 million to help prevent attempted cartel-corruption in CBP by drug trafficking-associated applicants. These funds would be used specifically to help the agency conduct background investigations and polygraph tests.
“The will of governments and communities in the U.S. and Mexico to combat criminal elements is strong,” wrote U.S. Reps. Reyes, Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Bob Filner, D-CA, Harry Teague, D-NM, Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, Susan Davis, D-CA,and Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ. “The United States and Congress must continue to honor that resolve with needed funding to aid those serving on the front lines at this critical juncture.”