Pubdate: Thu, 15 May 2008
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2008 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Brendan McKenna, Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - Drug cartel attacks against Mexican police have become so
violent and so common that some Mexican police chiefs are seeking
safety in the United States.

Faced with cartel-sponsored assassinations that have claimed the lives
of more than 25 officers since the start of May - including that of
Edgar Millan Gomez, head of the federal police - and threats of
further retaliation, some Mexican police are quitting their posts.

But three times in recent months, leaders of Mexican police have gone
further, arriving at U.S. border crossings and applying for political
asylum out of fear for their lives, according to Jayson Ahern, deputy
commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

"They're basically abandoned by their police officers or police
departments in many cases," Mr. Ahern told The Associated Press on

A CBP spokesman confirmed the AP account to The Dallas Morning News on
Wednesday but would not release further details.

The requests come as Congress considers whether to approve the Merida
Initiative, the Bush administration's plan to provide Mexico up to
$1.4 billion in military equipment, training and other resources over
the next three years to help the country in its fight against drug

An initial installment of $500 million is included in the emergency
spending bill to pay for combat operations in Iraq and

More than 300 Mexican police officers have been killed in the last
year in the ongoing drug fight and more than 3,500 people have died in
drug-related violence.

The violence throughout Mexico has dominated much of Mexican President
Felipe Calderon's 17 months in office. Mr. Calderon has responded by
mobilizing the Mexican military, sending 30,000 troops to hot spots
throughout Mexico "in an effort to recapture territories lost to drug
traffickers," he said.

Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said
he was only aware of one case of a police chief seeking asylum in the
U.S. - that of Palomas Police Chief Emilio Perez.

Mr. Perez was threatened by phone after discovering two bodies, their
hands tied behind their backs, at the entrance to his city, which is
just across the border from Columbus, N.M. Within hours, his six
remaining police officers quit their jobs, and Mr. Perez drove across
the border and asked for political asylum.

"We are concerned not only about this incident of the police officer
coming across the border but also about the level of violence in
certain areas of the border," Mr. Alday said.

The government, as part of a pre-existing plan to strengthen police
presence along the border, responded by sending about 2,000 troops to
the region.

"As the president has said from the outset ... this is the only way we
can win the war on the drug lords and organized crime," he said. "He
expected that more violence might come, that things might get worse
before they got better."

Ominous message

To some in the U.S. Congress, the prospect of Mexican police seeking
asylum in the United States could send an ominous message.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, a member of the House subcommittee that
oversees immigration and asylum and the leading Republican on the
panel on crime terrorism and homeland security, said he was
sympathetic to those fleeing violence south of the border, but only to
a point.

"These are law enforcement officials that are needed in Mexico," he
said. "If those who are charged with protecting Mexican citizens and
enforcing the law in Mexico can't afford to stay there, then the drug
lords win and the United States loses."

Mr. Gohmert said the reports fuel his existing concerns about the
Merida Initiative.

"I'm concerned at turning that over to a military and police that
can't protect themselves and find it necessary to flee to the United
States," he said, citing reports of U.S. military equipment falling
into the hands of the cartels.

But Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, said the murder and intimidation of
police only underscores the need for U.S. assistance, in equipment,
technology and training for Mexican efforts against the cartels.

"If Mexico seeks our help on something, like they did," he said, "we
need to help them every way we can."

He added: "It's also in our interests. It's not just the interest of
Mexico. If they lose that battle we will continue to lose the battle
on our side of the border."

Mr. Green recognized the concerns about military equipment falling
into the wrong hands

"Does that mean we're not supposed to help our neighbors try and
control their own country?" he asked. "We'll just have to cross that
bridge if some of that equipment gets to the dark side."

No Guarantee

Despite the violence and threats faced by the three asylum-seeking
police chiefs, there's no guarantee they'll be ruled eligible for
refugee status in the United States.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services division of the Department of
Homeland Security, which declined to comment on specifics of cases,
said to qualify for asylum, applicants must have faced persecution "on
account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular
social group, or political opinion," according to CIS documents.

Professor Huyen Phan, who teaches immigration law at Texas Wesleyan
University, said that while a particular type of employment usually
isn't protected, the police chiefs could argue that they are part of a
"social group" of current and former law enforcement officials who are
at risk.

"If they quit their jobs, would the drug cartels still go after them?
That's one question the judge will ask," Ms. Phan said. "I don't think
I'd rule out of hand that they wouldn't have an asylum claim."

In one of the latest killings, Juan Antonio Roman Garcia, second in
command of the Ciudad Juarez police department, was shot more than 50
times Saturday as he parked his car outside his home.

Mr. Roman's name was first on a hit list left in January by drug
traffickers who warned that the targets would face death unless they
resigned their posts. Many heeded the message. Others kept working and
were hunted down over the past weeks.

"Everyone who works at the Juarez police department is in mourning,"
Juarez police spokesman Jaime Torres said in a written statement
Saturday. "But we reiterate our will and firm commitment to continue
working toward maintaining order and social tranquility in our city."

However, granting the chiefs refugee status could pose an implicit
insult to the Mexican government, Ms. Phan said, because persecution
by groups other than the government is usually only grounds for asylum
if the government can't or won't intervene to prevent it.

"We'd be saying we're giving asylum to your police chiefs because
you're unable to control the drug cartels," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake