Cash seizures quadruple on U.S.-Mexico border


Associated Press

PHOENIX — Seizures of money bound mostly for Mexico's violent drug cartels more than quadrupled this year on the Arizona border, and government officials are crediting beefed-up screening at checkpoints.

Inspectors intercepted $1.1 million heading into Mexico in fiscal 2008. This year, they netted $4.9 million.

Brian Levin, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said the seizures reflect a new focus in the smuggling clampdown and the U.S. efforts to help Mexico fight its bloody drug war, though the amount confiscated is just a fraction of the millions of dollars in drug- and human-smuggling profits funneled back to Mexican syndicates each year.

Until this year, U.S. inspections on the border primarily targeted incoming traffic from Mexico while ignoring vehicles headed south.

But federal authorities intensified outbound screening amid reports a year ago that weapons smuggled from the United States were providing most of the firepower in Mexico's drug wars. Authorities estimated that 90 percent of the guns used in police assassinations and cartel bloodshed originated in the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assigned an additional $400 million to border security, much of it for screening outbound traffic. That money went for more inspectors, X-ray machines and other gear.

Federal law requires that cash transactions or shipments of more than $10,000 must be declared, whether in the form of currency or wire transfers. The regulation was designed to thwart cartel efforts to move illicit funds through banks, and U.S. investigators have cracked down on electronic transfers.

As a complement to the increased inspections on the U.S. side of the border, Mexican authorities have launched their own screening system to catch contraband arriving from the United States.

Under a program known by its Spanish acronym, SIAVE, checkpoints are under construction in Sonora and all along the border. Cameras will record the license plate, model and weight of every passing vehicle while also capturing images of passengers. Suspicious cars and trucks will be subject to human inspection.

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