CAM SIMPSON and EVAN PEREZ
The Wall Street Journal
March 10, 2009
WASHINGTON — The number of federal agents trying to keep drugs and illegal immigrants out of the U.S. has more than doubled in five years. Congress now wants those sentinels to keep watch in both directions — to stop the smuggling of U.S. guns and cash to Mexico.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday urged officials from the Department of Homeland Security to halt the flow of weapons and drug profits that has fueled the violence by Mexico’s drug gangs.
[efoods]At a hearing, some lawmakers expressed disappointment at the lack of a specific plan from Homeland Security officials to attack the problem, which has claimed thousands of lives. The ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, California Rep. Jerry Lewis, compared the task to the challenge facing the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said tackling the issue is a top priority. But officials who lead the two biggest DHS agencies involved — Customs and Border Protection, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — said in interviews they don’t have funding currently designated for so-called outbound enforcement.
Rep. Hal Rogers, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which held Tuesday’s hearing, said U.S. officials are “burying our heads in the sands of Cancún.”
One angry Democrat, Rep. Sam Farr of California, threatened to hold up the department’s funding until there is a coordinated plan for going after the drugs and money.
The Mexican government is fighting a war with its drug cartels and their armed enforcers. The gangs are battling for access routes to the lucrative U.S. market and much of the violence straddles the border.
The fighting is being waged with thousands of American-purchased or stolen weapons flowing south illegally each year, U.S. officials say.