Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Hard to draw line on Mexico border drug violence

Hard-bitten surveyors and astronomers worked six years to map a boundary across America's desolate Southwest after the U.S. victory in the Mexican-American war of 1848. Nothing was at first what it seemed. Landmarks shimmered in the distance and disappeared like desert mirages. Boundary rivers shifted course with seasonal flooding. Facts on the ground continued to change. Today, facts of a different sort remain just as elusive along the border in the deepening political disagreement over just how much of Mexico's drug violence is spilling into the Lone Star State. The central question — Is the border secure? — lies at the heart of an open-ended political stalemate over comprehensive immigration reform. Facts are in such dispute and perceptions so different that public testimonies and political potshots tell a tale of two borders. The dispute flared anew last week when Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio, introduced legislation in the GOP-led House that would require the Department of Homeland Security to provide "an accurate definition of the term 'cross-border violence' " in order to "improve the safety, security and operational control" of the U.S.-Mexico border. Canseco, whose district includes 800 miles of the border, said his proposal was designed "to force the federal government to acknowledge the reality faced by my constituents every day who live and work along the border." Federal law enforcement agencies rely on a narrow, interagency yardstick. It excludes trafficker-on-trafficker attacks, extortion and kidnapping to focus instead on violence that "entails deliberate, planned attacks by the cartels on U.S. assets, including civilian, military or law enforcement officials, innocent U.S. citizens or physical institutions such as government buildings, consulates, or businesses," according to congressional researchers. By that measure, spillover violence remains "relatively small." Yet some Texas law enforcement officials define it more broadly to include crimes that need only be linked to Mexican cartels. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, has traced at least 22 homicides, 24 assaults, 15 shootings and five kidnappings in Texas over the last 16 months "directly" to Mexican cartels...more

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