- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

The United States and Mexico signed agreements Friday aimed at, among other things, improving safety and security along the 1,940-mile U.S.-Mexico border “to prevent migrant deaths and combat organized crime linked to human smuggling and trafficking.”

Signed by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Mexican Secretary of the Interior Santiago Creel during meetings in Mexico City, one agreement — known as the 2004 U.S.-Mexico Action Plan for Cooperation and Border Safety — establishes the U.S.-Mexico Coordinating Commission to strengthen binational law enforcement cooperation, increase surveillance and enforcement capabilities, and help migrants in life-threatening situations.

Other agreements reinforce secure and orderly repatriation of Mexican nationals to their places of origin, call for an expansion of rapid inspection lanes at six additional ports of entry, and create new Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes at five additional ports.

“These agreements preserve the free flow of $630 million in trade across the U.S.-Mexico border every day while maintaining the integrity of the border,” Mr. Ridge said. “The United States and Mexico further agree to jointly and vigorously fight alien smuggling rings and to prosecute those who perpetrate these crimes.

“We are dedicated to one goal: to protect the American and Mexican people from the threat of terrorism,” he said.

Mr. Ridge attended a dinner Thursday night hosted by Mr. Creel and other members of Mexican President Vicente Fox’s Cabinet as well as the governors of the six border states. There he reaffirmed statements made by President Bush during Mr. Fox’s state visit in September 2001 that the United States has “no greater friend than Mexico and our commitment never wavered.”

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