By Eileen Sullivan
LAREDO, Texas — Beefed up vehicle inspections, more drug-sniffing dogs and improved surveillance should help curb the flow of guns and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday.
Speaking at a border crossing facility near the Rio Grande River, Napolitano said strategies outlined in meetings with Mexican officials this week will put the squeeze on warring drug cartels.
The two governments agreed to "operate almost like a vice from the north and from Mexico . . . to take out the large cartels which have plagued our area for far, far too long," said Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona.
Earlier Friday, Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Mexico President Felipe Calderon and members of his Cabinet, wrapping up a series of meetings on drug violence in the two countries.
Among the strategies under consideration are:
- Changes to extradition laws in both countries to ensure that offenders get the greatest punishment possible.
- How to better coordinate efforts by the Mexican navy and the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept offshore smugglers.
- Sharing surveillance data to better identify motor vehicles and railroad cars that might be smuggling drugs, weapons or bulk quantities of currency.
- Allowing top Mexican law enforcement officials to work alongside U.S. authorities investigating stateside activites of the drug cartels.
Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said the U.S. agreed to begin training drug- and gun-sniffing dogs to work with Mexican handlers. At present, canine units are credited with detecting about 60 percent of the cash, guns and drugs intercepted along the southwestern U.S. border.
Before the meeting with Calderon, Holder told The Associated Press that extradition laws on both sides of the borders will be reviewed to find ways ensure that cartel members and associates are prosecuted in locations where they face the toughest penalties.
"Which way are they going to go? Are they going to stay here? Go there?" Holder said. "We frequently have them charged in both countries, so the question then becomes where can you get the greatest sentence? Where can you have the greatest impact?"
In Laredo, Napolitano cited recent seizures of cash and guns as an example of what the two governments can do to put pressure on the drug cartels. Since October, Border Patrol officers have seized more than $50 million in U.S. currency, 641 firearms and nearly 125,000 rounds of ammunition.
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Recent deployment of additional immigration enforcement agents to the Southwest includes 30 divided among three South Texas border cities Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen.