- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2010

The killings last month in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez of two U.S. citizens, including an employee at the city’s U.S. Consulate, along with the slaying of an Arizona rancher, have fueled concerns among U.S. officials that Americans are becoming fair game for Mexican drug gangs seeking control of smuggling routes into the United States.

For more than two years, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have been warning that the dramatic rise in violence along the southwestern border could eventually target U.S. citizens and spread into this country. The violence posed what the officials called a “serious threat” to law enforcement officers, first responders and residents along the 1,951-mile border.

The numbers bear out those concerns, according to the State Department: 79 U.S. citizens were killed last year in Mexico, up from 35 in 2007. In Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, 23 Americans were killed in 2009, compared with two in 2007.

In response, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain, both Republicans, have called on the Department of Homeland Security to deploy the National Guard along the Arizona border. Mrs. Brewer said the rising violence showed the “abject failure of the U.S. Congress and President Obama to adequately provide public safety along our national border with Mexico.”

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, whose district includes the area where rancher Robert Krentz was killed, said if the slaying was connected to smugglers or drug cartels, the federal government should consider all options, including sending more Border Patrol agents to the area and deploying the National Guard.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a Republican who is seeking Mr. McCain’s senatorial seat, joined in the call for National Guard troops to be stationed along the border.

Mr. Hayworth said the federal government should “act now and step up its efforts to secure our borders.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also has put into play a “spillover violence contingency plan” to address attacks on American citizens in Mexico. The plan increases border surveillance; intelligence sharing; and ground, air and maritime patrols.

A day before the March 13 Juarez killings, Mr. Perry unsuccessfully sought help from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to use unmanned Predator drone aircraft and 1,000 additional soldiers for missions on the Mexican border. He said there was a disparity in the amount of federal resources allotted to Texas for border security.

The White House said Mr. Obama was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the killings and had pledged to “continue to work with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his government to break the power of the drug-trafficking organizations that operate in Mexico and far too often target and kill the innocent.”

The latest victims were Lesley Enriquez, 25, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, and her husband, Arthur Redelf, 30, both U.S. citizens. They were killed March 13 when Mexican drug gang members fired shots at their sport utility vehicle as they left a birthday party.

Mr. Redelf was a 10-year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Ms. Enriquez was four months pregnant with their second child. The couple’s 7-month-old daughter was found unharmed in the back seat.

That same day, Jorge Alberto Salcido, 37, a Mexican citizen whose wife also was an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, was killed when cartel members shot at his car at a separate location, also wounding his two young children. They had attended the same birthday party.

Mr. Krentz, 58, a longtime Douglas, Ariz., rancher, was killed Saturday. He was found by a Cochise County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, slumped over his Polaris all-terrain vehicle on his 34,000-acre ranch. His dog also was shot and was critically wounded. The animal was euthanized on Sunday.

Arizona authorities said they think Mr. Krentz was shot by an illegal immigrant. Police dogs followed the tracks of the suspected killer back into Mexico, about 20 miles south. Authorities think the shooter was either a drug cartel scout or a member of a known gang of border thieves that has terrorized the area’s remote ranches.

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