In the first two months of 2009, there were about 200 fatalities in Afghanistan including 29 U.S. troops. But in January alone, over 1,000 people have died in Mexico’s escalating drug war. Fueled by a $25 billion a year industry, Mexico’s two largest drug cartels have an estimated combined 100,000 foot soldiers battling each other and Mexico’s own 130,000 strong army. The increased violence has not been confined to Mexico. Phoenix, Arizona, has seen a spike in Mexican drug-smuggling related kidnappings and Atlanta, Georgia, has become the principal distribution center for the entire eastern United States. And in Northern California, firefighters battling blazes have had confrontations with Mexican drug gangs over their marijuana cultivation on public lands. The first duty of any state is to protect its citizens. We must stem the flow of drug violence into this country.

Speaking to regional newspapers yesterday, President Barack Obama said: “We’re going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense.” They don’t make sense. At least not right now.

President George Bush did send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in 2006 as part of Operation Jump Start. But those forces were meant to supplement Department of Homeland Security officers until more permanent numbers of border forces could be hired and trained. Since that time the feds have successfully doubled their border manpower to over 18,000. If there is a true border “crisis” the federal government already has contingency plans in place that include the National Guard. We are not there yet.

But there are other key steps the Obama Administration ought to pursue to strengthen security on our southern border:

  • Financial Support for State and Local Officers: Our state and local law enforcement agencies aren’t beset by the corruption issues that plague their Mexican counterparts. They can and should play a vital role in policing border communities. The biggest obstacle is that, right now, the narco-terrorists have them outmanned and outgunned. What state and local officers need is support and financial resources. This should be a critical priority for homeland security grants.
  • Increase Cooperation Between Federal, State, Local, and Mexican Governments: Our state and local law enforcement agencies also need to be integrated into a smarter border security network. The Border Enforcement Secu­rity Taskforce (BEST) is a program that couples U.S. federal, state, and local law enforce­ment with Mexican law enforcement to share information and collaborate on matters such as border crime. Investing in programs like BEST and Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s 287(g) program, which promotes federal and local government cooperation, will help state and local law enforcement fight smarter.
  • Expand the Merida Initiative: Around $300 million of the $1.5 billion allocated for the anti-drug program has been spent so far. The U.S. needs to go further to ensure that all of these monies are spent to provide this valuable assistance.

Gaining control of the border is not optional—the security of the United States depends on the ability and determination of the U.S. govern­ment to keep its citizens safe. Sending brigades of our already over-stretched military to the border would doubtless grab a few headlines, but it’s a less-than optimum strategy for winning the long war on our border.

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