- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

UPDATED:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hinted Tuesday the federal government has begun planning what it would do if the Mexican government fails in its fight with drug smugglers and the United States has to deal with a collapsed state and possible refugees.

The news came after Mexico announced Monday it was placing more than $2 million bounties on the heads of two dozen top drug gang chiefs, and as the fight between the Mexican government and rival cartels intensifies.

“One of the things we do at the department is plan for even the most remote contingencies. We have those plans,” Miss Napolitano said, though she said she doesn’t believe the government will fail and said to even acknowledge the U.S. plans could be overstating the threat.



Miss Napolitano was briefing reporters about President Obama’s new anti-border violence plan, which adds some new manpower to the framework established by the Bush administration.

She said the plan is “a very robust movement of personnel,” and said it was the first wave in what she expects to be a series of announcements on combating the rising violence.

But critics said that while the boost in resources on the border was welcome, the redeployment shouldn’t be used to cut enforcement elsewhere.

“The administration appears to be using border violence as an excuse to reduce interior enforcement of our immigration laws and enact gun restrictions,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “With hundreds of federal law enforcement officers being relocated to the border, we must ensure that we do not undercut our national security and immigration enforcement responsibilities.”

At the briefing Miss Napolitano was asked whether her department had evaluated the risk if the Mexican government fails in its fight against the drug cartels. She stressed that U.S. officials don’t expect that to happen.

“I believe the Mexican government will not fail and I believe that our role is to assist in this battle because we have our own security interests in its success,” she said, though she then volunteered that DHS does in fact have plans for worst-case scenarios.

The White House said the president is “concerned by the increased level of violence,” and announced that the U.S. relationship with Mexico and the anti-drug violence efforts will be coordinated out of the White House through the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.

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. Kidnappings and murders, some in spectacularly violent fashion, have skyrocketed, and the violence has spilled over into the U.S. Southwest. Mexican drug cartels have also reportedly spread well beyond the border and into major cities throughout the U.S.

Phoenix has become the country’s kidnapping capital, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told a Senate hearing last week, as rival Mexican drug and human trafficking networks have taken their deadly rivalries across the border in recent years.

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

Mr. Calderon’s attorney general this week announced the bounties, including $2.1 million for information leading to the arrest of 24 top drug leaders, and half that for 13 other cartel leaders.

Mr. Calderon has criticized the United States for failing to stem the flow of guns south to Mexico, and the White House, in a statement, promised to “reduce illegal flows in both directions across the border.”

Mr. Obama is deploying Cabinet officials to address the situation, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is scheduled to meet with Mr. Calderon this week.

Miss Napolitano will travel to Texas Thursday to meet with Republican Gov. Rick Perry to discuss his request for National Guard troops to be deployed along the border in his state.

“We are still considering and looking at that,” the secretary said.

She also said that portions of the border fence that were already in the process of being built or already funded by the government will be completed, but that the Obama administration does not intend to complete a fence along the entire border.

“A wall is not the best way to spend our dollars,” Mrs. Napolitano said.

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