03/18/2009

More feds headed to border to quell drug violence

By Eileen Sullivan and Devlin Barrett
Associated Press


Army soldiers guard a police station in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. As retired and active-duty soldiers largely took over security in the violence-wracked city of 1.3 million, a retired Army officer took over as head of police Monday, whose last law enforcement chief resigned after receiving threats. (AP Photo)
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WASHINGTON — Seeking to stanch the flow of drugs, guns and violence saturating the Mexico-U.S. border, the Obama administration is preparing to send more federal agents as reinforcements.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is sending 37 agents to the region, while the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency may reassignment at least 90 officers to the border, and official familiar with the plan said. The official requested anonymity because the plan has not yet been announced.

The deployments are part of President Barack Obama's first moves to boost federal security on the U.S. side of the border.

The additional immigration agents could double the size of an ongoing ICE task force that has been working with other federal agencies to fight the criminal organizations contributing to the border violence.

The ATF agents will be added to anti-gunrunning teams in McAllen, Texas; El Centro, Calif.; and Las Cruces, N.M., as well as to U.S. consulates in Juarez and Tijuana. Some of the reinforcement costs will be covered with economic recovery money recently approved by Congress.

The U.S.-Mexico border has been a different problem for Obama than it was for his predecessor, George W. Bush. While Bush sent National Guard troops to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, Obama's first moves are designed more to keep violence from spilling across the border.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office said it had not received official notice of the reassignment of federal agents and could not comment.

Mexican officials say the violence spawned by warring drug cartels killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 so far this year, mostly south of the border.

Over the weekend hundreds of Mexican army troops arrived in Juarez, a border city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Police in Juarez have been swamped by drug violence. The move brought the number of soldiers patrolling the city to around 7,000.

Warring drug cartels are blamed for more than 560 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2007 and the first half of 2008, as well as killings in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Vancouver, British Columbia.

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