Citing the "exploding" threat posed by Mexican drug cartels, US lawmakers pushed Tuesday for ramping up efforts to dam up the southward flow of guns and money to the syndicates from US sources.
Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman and Republican Senator Susan Collins introduced legislation to channel another 550 million dollars for more federal agents, investigators, and technological improvements.
Lieberman cited the "mind-boggling" spread of the problem to an estimated 230 US cities from Arctic neighbor Alaska to the rural southwestern states, as he pushed for a budget amendment to respond to "urgent" security needs.
"The Mexican drug cartels are a clear and present danger to the US and that fact compels us to provide our federal law enforcement agencies with additional funding," said Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Collins, the panel's top Republican, said the threat was "exploding" and pointed to US Department of Justice estimates three years ago that the cartels' tendrils reached into about 100 US cities.
Asked whether the measure had enough votes to pass, Lieberman said there was "broad concern" among his colleagues about the crisis and that he hoped the full Senate would vote on this amendment on Wednesday.
With an estimated 90 percent of the cartels' guns coming from the United States, Lieberman said he favored tougher US gun laws, including restrictions on fully automatic firearms and on sales at informal gun shows.
But Collins underline that shipping US firearms across the Mexican border was "already an illegal activity" and said she favored tighter enforcement of existed US gun laws.
The amendment includes 260 million dollars for the US Customs and Border Protection to hire, train, equip and deploy 1,600 officers and 400 canine team to toughen border exit inspections.
It also includes 130 million dollars for 350 full-time Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators to work on firearm trafficking and money laundering investigations.
Another 20 million dollars would aim to improve field communications between the border patrol and immigration authorities, and a further 20 million to modernize technology to identify potential criminals at ports of entry.
The measure would also provide another 50 million dollars to the US Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency to hire an additional 150 investigators and 50 inspectors to investigate firearms trafficking at the Mexican border.
Efforts to help local law enforcement in border areas, fight human trafficking, and boost staffing at the US embassy in Mexico would also get new funding.
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