White House Border Violence Proposal
March 25, 2009
A Step in the Right Direction
Border Communities Point to Necessary Improvements
Washington, DC – The U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force responded positively to announcements made yesterday by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on new border security and law-enforcement measures the Administration is taking in response to U.S.-Mexico border violence and drug trafficking. Today, Secretary Napolitano and senior Homeland Security staff testified at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee entitled “Southern Border Violence: Homeland Security Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Responsibilities.” The U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force is made up of state and local law-enforcement, elected officials, faith leaders, and community-based organizations along the border from Brownsville in the East to San Diego in the West.
“It is clear that the President understands the complexity and challenges of border security,” said Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, which is a co-convener of the Task Force. “This plan amounts to a ‘comprehensive bi-national border strategy’ that is the right approach and we applaud the White House for not succumbing to the temptation to over-simplify national security strategies.”
“The proposal aptly relies on and supports local law-enforcement to curtail border violence,” said Jennifer Allen, Executive Director of the Border Action Network in Tucson, another Task Force co-convener. “Local agencies are often called on, but rarely have sufficient resources, staffing, support, and communication and Washington appears to be addressing this.”
“The response from Washington is measured and sensible and consistent with what we are hearing is needed from the groups and leaders we work with on the border,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, another Task Force co-convener organization. “This is not militarizing the border willy-nilly, but a balanced plan of action.”
The U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force (background and list of members here), issued a series of recommendations for successful border policy in a report, “Effective Border Policy: Security, Responsibility And Human Rights at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” released in Washington in November (Report here, Executive Summary here, and photos available on request).
Task Force Members pointed to two specific considerations that could improve the President’s initiative: paying close attention to ports of entry and providing the kind of law-enforcement and judicial support envisioned by the President for the Mexican side of the border on the U.S. side, too.
“Most drugs are intercepted at ports of entry on the US-Mexico border, yet ports continue to be understaffed, under-supported and plagued by long lines that deter cross-border commerce,” Allen said. “The President’s proposal should include substantial infrastructure, staffing and technology expansions and improvements at the ports of entry.”
“The proposal creates additional community liaisons to work with Mexican officials and agencies on their side of the border, but we need those here too,” said Garcia. “The on-the-ground success of any border security strategy will be greatly improved if local communities have a means to share their information, experiences, and frustrations related to security issues faced at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Task Force members stressed that the mission to go after violent criminals and smuggling cartels must be clear and that training, accountability and oversight for new personnel and resources was critical to success.
“The President’s plan should clearly define the role of local law-enforcement in border security activities and inter-agency collaboration,” Garcia said. “We do not want our local law enforcement enlisted in the role of the Border Patrol, which would drive a wedge between border communities and their own police forces and erode trust and cooperation.”
“We cannot afford having a strategy with multiple programs, massive enforcement, and lots of resources interacting with border communities without clear oversight mechanisms,” Allen said. “Any border security strategy ought to be accountable and balanced and personnel must receive adequate training to deal with our communities on the border where many people look and sound like they may have come from Mexico.”
Finally, the Task Force stressed the need for long-term solutions for the Borderland region, including comprehensive immigration reform.
“Immigration reform is needed to reduce the black market for immigration that the smuggling cartels exploit,” Noorani stated. “Reform must create a legal immigration framework people will choose to go through rather than around, allowing our Homeland Security personnel to focus on actual threats.”
“Security must be paramount,” Allen said, “but cross-border commerce is the lifeblood of the local economy. In the long-run we need to strike the right balance so that there is as little interference as possible with the legitimate economy of the region.”
“Border communities have been encouraged by recent comments by President Obama regarding his commitment to seeking comprehensive immigration reform this year,” Garcia said. “A broad overhaul of our immigration system is essential to alleviating much of the stress and strain on the U.S.-Mexico border by enabling immigrants to enter the country in a legal, orderly, and safe manner rather than risking their lives with smuggling networks.”
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