- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that the federal government has begun planning what it would do if the Mexican government fails in its fight with drug cartels and the United States has to deal with a broken government and a potential stream of refugees across the border.

The move was announced as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared to arrive Wednesday in Mexico, and the Mexican government placed $2 million in bounties on the heads of two dozen drug gang chiefs.

The fight between the Mexican government and rival cartels has intensified in recent months. Ms. Napolitano said she thinks the Mexican government will prevail, but the Department of Homeland Security has to plan for worst-case scenarios.

“One of the things we do at the department is plan for even the most remote contingencies. We have those plans,” Ms. Napolitano said, though she said that even to acknowledge the U.S. plans could be overstating the threat.

Spectacularly brutal drug-related kidnappings and killings in Mexico have skyrocketed, with 8,000 killings over the past two years blamed on drug violence. With the threats of violence spilling into the United States, President Obama promised to step up his engagement and coordinate efforts out of the White House.

Ms. Napolitano and other top officials announced a plan to reallocate manpower to the border and continue the framework established by the Bush administration to combat drugs being smuggled into the U.S. and guns and money being smuggled south to Mexico.

Ms. Napolitano said the new plan is “a very robust movement of personnel” in the first wave in a series of announcements on combating the rising violence. The U.S. also has committed to stemming the flow of guns and money headed south, which Mexico blames for arming the cartels and contributing to the violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has made quashing drug cartels the top priority of his six-year term in office, but the cartels have fought back violently, and have even extended their reach into U.S. communities. Phoenix has become the country’s kidnapping capital, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told a Senate hearing last week.

“The threat posed to American communities from this trafficking cannot be overestimated,” Mr. Goddard said.

Critics welcomed Mr. Obama’s boost in resources on the border but said that increasing the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on the border shouldn’t cut immigration enforcement elsewhere.

“It tells me that work-site enforcement is going to suffer,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican and the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee.

He said that having the agents watching for contraband headed to Mexico means they aren’t working on stopping what’s coming into the U.S.

He said if it turns out the effort is taking away from immigration enforcement inside the U.S., he will offer amendments to bills to try to redirect money to work-site enforcement. He said if the country had followed through on building a fence or wall to secure its borders, it would be much easier to manage a future flow of refugees.

Border state governors gave mixed reviews.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, called the initiative “a great first step” to prevent a spillover of violence.

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