Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jun 2009
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Sheldon Alberts, Canwest News Service
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Cap on Number of Agents Lifted in Cartel Crackdown

The Obama administration is strengthening efforts to intercept drug
rings smuggling narcotics across the Canada-U.S. border under an
agreement that will bring a sharp increase in the number of
immigration and customs agents conducting raids and making arrests.

Under the deal announced Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement will have the power to authorize an unlimited number of
agents to investigate cross-border drug crimes.

While aimed primarily at helping the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration address the overwhelming challenge of fighting Mexican
drug cartels along the country's southwest border, administration
officials made it clear they will be watching the Canada-U.S.
boundary, too.

"Stay tuned. You are going to see a lot more activity," said John
Morton, the assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs

"This is a national effort. ... We are going to be paying attention to
the northern border, and also to our air and maritime ports as well."

The agreement is designed to end decades of turf wars between the Drug
Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Immigration and Customs agents
over who has the power to investigate drug trafficking at the
country's borders and ports of entry.

Until now, Immigration and Customs could authorize only 1,475 of its
roughly 6,500 agents to investigate drug cases at any given time.
Immigration and Customs officials have long claimed the limit severely
hampered their efforts to break up drug-trafficking operations,
particularly on the southern border.

"With the Mexican drug cartels and their impact on our country,
everybody sees the significance of agencies working together in a
co-ordinated, systematic, surgical way," said Michele Leonhart, acting
administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The new deal gives the Department of Homeland Security the sole
discretion to designate as many immigration and customs agents as it
needs to take on drug smuggling. Customs agents, too, will now be able
to conduct foreign drug investigations in co-operation with the DEA.

Morton refused to say how many more agents would be conducting drug
operations along the Canada-U.S. border, or the boundary with Mexico.

"It will be something short of every agent."

U.S. officials said the expanded authority for immigration agents
would not affect inspections carried out by border patrol at
Canada-U.S. crossings.

Border patrol is preparing to send 700 additional agents to patrol
that Canada-U.S. border, an almost 50-per-cent increase over current
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake