Pubdate: Fri, 13 Nov 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer


Group Also Wants Overhaul Of Mexican Border Agencies

A binational task force on U.S.-Mexico border issues will call Friday
on the Obama administration and Congress to reinstate an expired ban
on assault weapons and for Mexico to overhaul its frontier police and
customs agencies to mirror the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The recommendations are among a broad set of security, trade,
development and environmental proposals that come as President Obama
and his Mexicans counterpart, Felipe Calderon, move to deepen
engagement on issues including economic recovery, climate change,
illegal immigration and narcotics trafficking.

Robert C. Bonner, the U.S. co-chairman of the private task force,
which included several former senior government officials from both
countries, said the changes could be included in a follow-up to the
Merida initiative, a $1.4 billion three-year commitment of U.S. aid to
support Mexico's crackdown on drug cartels that ends next year.

The proposals "will transform management of the border from a source
of contention and frustration into a model of cooperation," states a
report by the Los Angeles-based Pacific Council on International
Policy and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations titled,
"Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border." The 30-member task force blamed
lack of collaboration for violence, billions of dollars in lost
economic opportunities and a public perception of a "broken" system.

The study comes as Mexico's struggle to combat narco-traffickers and
public corruption from the multibillion-dollar North American drug
trade has forged a tighter relationship between the neighbors. In
reaction, policy analysts and think tanks, most recently the School of
the Northern Border in Mexico and the Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars, have developed border development proposals.

Skeptics say U.S. attention to its troubled partner is outpaced by
what it spends to combat drugs in places such as Colombia or
Afghanistan, while the southbound flow of weapons into Mexico -- where
private gun ownership is illegal -- has been a flashpoint as Mexico's
death toll from drug-related violence has topped 15,000.

In Mexico City in April, Obama pledged to push the Senate to ratify an
inter-American arms-trafficking treaty but backed away from a campaign
promise to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that Congress let expire
in 2004. Obama said that it would be too difficult politically to
enact new gun legislation soon and that enforcing existing measures
would have a more immediate effect.

Mexican officials want a ban, saying that 90 percent of guns seized in
drug crimes in Mexico and submitted for tracing to the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives originate in the United
States, including most assault rifles.

Bonner, who led U.S. drug enforcement and customs agencies under
Republican administrations from 1990 to 1993 and from 2002 to 2005,
said the task force sought to identify bold steps for each side.
Bonner took over the panel from Alan D. Bersin, whom Obama has
nominated to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Task force co-chairman Andres Rozental, former deputy foreign minister
of Mexico, said Mexico should realign and strengthen 16 agencies that
share border responsibilities to combat corruption and improve
coordination with the DHS, as Canada did after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks. Mexico has taken some steps, including hiring 1,400
new customs agents.

Mexico is the third-largest U.S. trading partner and the No. 2
destination for U.S. exports, he noted. The panel recommended adding
private border crossings that collect tolls and prioritizing jointly
planned improvements based on economic benefit.

If the United States legalizes most of its illegal immigrants and
allows for a flexible flow of legal workers, Mexico should stop
illegal immigration from its side of the border, the panel said. 
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