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Will the Border Security Bill Keep Border States Safe from Spillover Violence?

Obama signed into law a $600 million border security bill last week, part of a months-long effort to show his administration is serious about safety along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pro-reform groups and enforcement advocates wrote off the bill as a political stunt, arguing either that it was unnecessary or too small to curb illegal immigration. But there is also a third criticism of the bill: It may not be enough to tackle spillover violence from Mexican drug cartels.

Although so far the U.S. side of the border has not seen an increase in violence due to cartels, the situation in Mexico is getting worse: 28,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office three years ago. This is primarily due to turf wars between drug cartels, who also engage in kidnapping and human trafficking.

So far, this violence has not spilled over the border, but residents of border states fear it will. “If we don’t get control of it, you’ll see vigilantes in these states,” Don Elder, the mayor of Katy, Texas, told TWI. “We’ll see fighting in the U.S. on the street.”

Along with its funding for additional Border Patrol agents and unmanned drones, the border security bill includes funds specifically aimed at maintaining safety in the border region, with $30 million for law enforcement activities targeted at reducing the threat of violence. Obama also recently deployed an additional 1,200 National Guard troops along the border.

These are positive developments, but long-term work is also needed to remove the threat of spillover violence from Mexico, Bob Killebrew, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told TWI. “We can react to crises with pinpricks, like sending more National Guard troops, but the real solutions are more complicated,” he said.

Killebrew is the author of a CNAS report on national security and criminal drug networks that will be released in September. He said the administration has made the right moves for border safety so far by adding patrols and refocusing drug enforcement on prevention and treatment. The next steps should be to expand the Drug Enforcement Agency’s efforts at curbing Mexico’s drug cartels both within Mexico and in the U.S., where they sell drugs wholesale to American gangs, and to work with the Mexican government to fight cartels. “The focus of our war against these guys isn’t a war against drugs, it’s a war against the cartels,” Killebrew said.

The Daily Caller reported today that two former law enforcement officials had a similar take on border security:

In an interview with The Daily Caller, former Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force and Arizona State Narcotics Strike Force member Bill Richardson said he doubts Washington understands the scope of the problem. [...]

Former El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) director Phil Jordan told The Daily Caller he thinks Washington needs to make a concerted, full-scale effort to attack drug cartels.

“Our focus should not change from organized crime to going after illegal bus boys and maids,” Jordan said. “Yes, they are illegal, but the priority should be going after organized crimes.”

In other words, increasing border security is not as simple as ending illegal immigration. Immigrants rights advocates have attempted to disentangle the two issues, but to little avail: Republicans continue to call for increased border security before they will consider comprehensive immigration reform.

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