Pubdate: Tue, 21 Feb 2006
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2006 News World Communications, Inc.
Authors: Stephen Dinan and Jerry Seper


President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox agreed yesterday to
try to reduce violence on the U.S.-Mexico border and pledged to have
their countries' domestic security departments work together on the

In a telephone conversation, Mr. Bush designated Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff to be the top U.S. contact on border
violence, and Mr. Fox tapped Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal
Carranza as his point man.

"The two leaders talked about the importance of working together to
improve our border security and stop the violence," said White House
spokesman Scott McClellan.

Concern over border violence is growing as violent encounters in
Mexico increase, spreading rapidly throughout northern Mexico from the
lawless confines of Nuevo Laredo, which lies across the Rio Grande
from Laredo, Texas.

Last week, two police chiefs were killed within hours of each other in
what U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement authorities have described as an
escalating war among drug cartels for control of key smuggling routes
into the United States.

Hector Ayala, chief in San Pedro Garza Garcia, outside Monterrey, was
killed Feb. 13 when a car passed his vehicle and opened fire. Four
hours earlier, Sabinas Hidalgo Police Chief Javier Garcia was abducted
by armed men, bound and shot in the back of the head.

The violence has not been confined to Mexico. Since Oct. 1, the start
of the fiscal year, there have been more than 200 assaults on U.S.
agents in the Tucson sector alone, and the Border Patrol has warned
agents in Arizona of incursions by men dressed in Mexican military

The warning was issued last month after increased sightings of what
authorities described as heavily armed Mexican military units on the
U.S. side of the border.

U.S. officials at first downplayed the incursions. Mr. Chertoff called
the reports "overblown" and "scare tactics." Border Patrol chief David
V. Aguilar told the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this
month that incursions are "decreasing in frequency," though he said
the incidents are "not taken lightly."

But members of Congress say the issue is serious, and both the House
and the Senate are investigating the reports.

Mexico denies its military officials cross into the United States and
blames criminal organizations, arguing the smugglers wear
military-style uniforms and drive military-style vehicles.

Rafael Laveaga, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington,
said yesterday that by designating top-level contacts the two
countries are trying to present a united front in the fight against
organized crime.

"At the highest level, they are talking about strengthening the idea
and the importance of fighting together against a phenomenon that goes
both ways," he said.

He said the criminal organizations operate on both sides of the
border, smuggling firearms south into Mexico and drugs north into the
United States.

"This is a problem that knows no boundaries," he said.

A spokesman for Mr. Chertoff referred questions to the White

Mr. McClellan said Mr. Fox and Mr. Bush also talked about immigration
legislation pending in Congress.

The House last year passed an immigration law-enforcement bill that
covers both border and interior security. The Senate is expected at
the end of next month to begin a broader immigration debate on
proposals such as increasing the number of foreign workers allowed in
the country and creating a path to citizenship for most illegal aliens.

Mr. Bush supported the House bill but opposes Congress passing a
security-only bill. He has proposed creating a temporary-worker
program that would require participants to return home and would not
offer a path to citizenship.

Mr. Laveaga said the two presidents spoke about having a face-to-face
meeting in late March or early April, though the date and location
weren't disclosed.

They also agreed that the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission meeting
this year should be held March 24 in Washington. The annual meeting
allows Cabinet heads from both nations to share ideas and talk about
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