Sunday, May 21, 2006

Can the United States Secure its Borders?

Less than 100 miles east of San Diego, just across from American soil, lies the Mexican border town of Jacume, a village way-station that is one of the main entry points into the U.S. for human migration, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Today's Los Angeles Times has an investigative report on Jacume, an eye-opening expose on the nature and challenge of border security during a time when controlling illegal immigration tops the policy agenda in American politics. Check this out:

Jacume is a "black hole," an enclave largely beyond the control of authorities on either side of the border because of its remote location, complicit residents and corrupt Mexican police. Jacume has flourished as a launch pad for smuggling of drugs and people since U.S. authorities stiffened border defenses near San Diego a decade ago. Traffickers simply moved their operations east, into the forbidding valleys and mountain passes surrounding the village. As President Bush prepares to use National Guard troops to help seal the border, Jacume and places like it represent a formidable challenge and illustrate why the U.S., as Bush noted, "has not been in complete control of its borders" — and may never be. Mile-for-mile, more drugs are seized in this area than almost anywhere else along the California line. In the last fiscal year, federal agents captured an average of 400 pounds of marijuana and 660 migrants each month. In the first eight months of this fiscal year, drug seizures are nearly triple last year's total. Jacume residents have become beholden to smugglers whose activities pump cash into the community. Mexican federal agents have been taken hostage here. Police won't enter the town without heavily armed backup, so entrenched are the traffickers and their supporters." They own the place," said Armando Vale Saldate, civilian director of the Tecate Police Department, which oversees Jacume. Little is known publicly about the inner workings of Jacume's smuggling economy. But confidential law enforcement documents, as well as interviews with residents, smugglers and U.S. and Mexican officials, reveal layers of corruption extending from the traffickers to top police officials and the ruthless Arellano-Felix drug cartel.
The article continues with additional, disturbing details of the nature of this drug smuggling activity, a scene most people don't appreciate when they extoll the "peaceful" illegal immigration protests that have swept across America's cities in recent weeks:

Smuggling is an economic mainstay. Residents pocket up to $50 a day — about 10 times the minimum day's wage in Mexico — for each northbound migrant they harbor in their homes or farms. Storing drugs can earn them hundreds of dollars more. Merchants cater to the migrants' needs." It's good business for everybody around here," said Mario Ramirez, who operates Jacume's main restaurant. " People need to eat and need water." Government authority has long been tenuous here. In 1998, residents took two Mexican federal agents hostage for extorting money from smugglers, according to Mexican authorities. The captives were freed after an agreement was reached: The agents would return the money, and the smugglers would not file complaints against them. A few years later, unarmed Mexican immigration agents who chased a suspected smuggler's car into Jacume were greeted by bat-wielding residents. The agents retreated without making an arrest and now rarely enter the town, said immigration officer Felipe Flores. The alleged smuggler said to use the A-frame is Israel Martinez, 37, according to confidential law enforcement records and sources. He came to the attention of U.S. investigators in 1995, when officers stopped two pickup trucks on the U.S. side of the fence across from Jacume and found 450 pounds of marijuana inside, according to San Diego Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Walter. Martinez and another man were arrested. Martinez pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana and was sentenced to two years in California state prison. He was later deported. U.S. authorities, working with Mexican agents, have launched a new investigation of Martinez and his suspected smuggling network. Martinez's organization employs guides on foot, drivers and lookouts to shepherd drugs and people across the frontier, according to law enforcement records and sources. Mexican and U.S. sources who have interviewed traffickers in custody, including alleged members of Martinez's group, say his organization is suspected of moving large quantities of marijuana across the border for the Arellano-Felix cartel, a Tijuana-based syndicate that controls drug trafficking across Baja California.
I hope this article gets the widest possible distribution. The story's illustrations of hard-core migratory lawlessness raise ultimate questions of national sovereignty. Can the U.S. ever hope to secure its southern front from this onslaught? Will we have to build a "Jecume Wall" to do it, our own post-Cold War, southwestern version of the Berlin Wall?

1 comment:

Steve Landis said...

One of the differences between the Berlin Wall and the wall we almost surely need to erect on our southern border is of course that the BW kept Germans from a unified nation. No such problem exists on our border, which should in fact be shut down. The same should be said to our north, although the difficulty in doing so is vastly more difficult and in any event, it is the rare Canadian who wants to be smuggled south... Rather, we simply subject ourselves to the possible entry of terrorists etc.