‘Undeclared War’ on Mexican Border Greater Challenge than Afghanistan, Congressmen Say
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) thanked the witnesses, including David Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, for their service in an “undeclared war.”
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what all of you do,” Culberson said. “You truly are in our prayers on a daily basis.”
“You’re on the front lines of an undeclared war unlike any we’ve ever seen on the southern border probably since 1916,” Culberson said, referring to Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing’s expedition into Mexico with 10,000 troops in an effort to capture the infamous revolutionary Pancho Villa after Villa had conducted attacks inside the United States.
“We are in a state of undeclared war on the southern border that has already spilled over [into the United States], and it’s utterly unrealistic to think that it hasn’t,” he said.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) told committee members and witnesses that the U.S. government might rethink its military and national security priorities.
“I used to head that subcommittee, and I’ll tell you that what’s going on with our biggest trading partner in respect to this drug problem, it is our No. 1 challenge,” he said.
The two back-to-back hearings on border security and the drug cartel-induced violence along the U.S. Mexico border, which lasted four hours, revealed details about the ongoing violence in Mexico as the drug cartels battle the police and military for access to smuggling routes that bring drugs into the United States and money and guns into Mexico.
Witnesses said drug dealers use gliders and a massive network of tunnels to surpass border security, including the 610 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing that’s been constructed along the border.
Jayson Ahern, acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that seizures of cocaine have increased 119 percent in the last fiscal year.
He also spoke about cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican government in the “transit zone,” including an early January interception of a self-propelled submarine carrying 25 metric tons of cocaine toward the coast of Mexico.
Ahern said the U.S. Border Patrol “deals with drug traffickers on a daily basis,” and that last year 327 agents were assaulted while in the line of duty.
The hearing included discussion on a wide range of issues, including the progress and funding of the 2005 Secure Border Initiative and the treatment of women and children who are detained for illegally entering the country.
But Culberson said the answer to the border question has already been found in the Del Rio section of Texas where a “zero tolerance” operation, dubbed Operation Streamline, has resulted in approximately 80 percent of people who cross into the country illegally being arrested.
“It’s a great success story,” Culberson said. “This is, Mr. Chairman, the win-win situation we are looking for.”
Culberson said the operation is being implemented in other areas along the Texas-Mexico border with increasing success, adding that states like Arizona should consider a similar approach.
“The Tucson sector is a real problem, Mr. Chairman, and this is an incredible fact to wrap up on,” Culberson said. “If you are arrested in the Tucson sector, crossing into the United States illegally, carrying less than 500 pounds of marijuana, you have a 99.6 percent chance of never being prosecuted and never go to jail for more than a few hours, which is a source of great frustration to your border agents, isn’t it chief?”
“Yes, sir,” Aguilar said.
“And that number hasn’t changed much, has it?” Culberson asked.
“No, not at this point,” Aguilar said.
“So, Tucson is wide open,” Culberson said.
“Tucson is being worked on,” Aguilar said.
“You’re doing your best, but it’s the U.S. prosecutor,” Culberson said.
“The point is, is that there are wildly different levels of enforcement, the border is wide open in Tucson, we found the solution in Texas, and it’s real simple,” Culberson said. “It’s law enforcement.”
Marcy Forman, director of the Office of Investigations with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mark Koumans, deputy assistant secretary for International Affairs with the Department of Homeland Security, and Mark Borkowki, executive director of the Secure Border Initiative, also testified at the hearings.