President Obama’s plan to bolster federal enforcement on the Mexico border may come with a hidden price tag: Less vigilance over illegal aliens elsewhere.
That’s the concern of some GOP leaders who are calling for the administration to provide more specifics about how the plan will impact enforcement in the nation’s heartland.
“I am concerned that the redeployment may come at the expense of other critical law enforcement activities,” Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told CQPolitics.com. “The administration appears to be using border violence as an excuse to reduce interior enforcement of our immigration laws and enact gun restrictions.”
The leading Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King of New York, expressed similar concerns.
“I support [Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano’s decision to deploy additional personnel to the border. I would hope this will not in any way lessen interior enforcement. Should Secretary Napolitano need more border personnel, I would certainly support that request,” he told the Web site.
The plan Obama announced Wednesday calls for the Homeland Security Department to send close to 500 more officers and agents to the border area. Approximately 100 will be from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It will be their job to interdict the flow of firearms from the United States into Mexico – guns that have been blamed for fueling the drug wars near the border.
Drug violence has claimed the lives of over 8,000 people – and 200 Americans -- since January 2008, officials say.
The No. 1 Republican leading the charge to modify the Obama plan is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who says the best response would be sending U.S. soldiers in to control the border.
Perry released a statement on Wednesday that “what we really need are more border patrol agents and officers at the bridges to conduct increased northbound and southbound inspections, as well as additional funding for local law enforcement along the border to deny Mexican drug cartels access to the United States.”
His statement continued: “I have asked the administration for an immediate deployment of 1,000 additional National Guard troops to support civilian law enforcement and border patrol agents and remain hopeful that we will get the resources we need. The state of Texas will continue to fill in the gaps until the federal government provides adequate resources necessary to secure our border and protect our citizens from those seeking to do us harm.”
According to Perry’s office, Texas spends over $100 million a year to secure the Mexico border. Perry has asked the state legislature for an additional $135 million to help combat the drug gangs currently terrorizing the border.
Obama has shied away from dispatching U.S. troops to the border. Several groups that supported him during the election, including pro-immigrant organizations, oppose such a move.
To help stem the tide of violence, the United States will fast track $700 million Congress already approved for Mexico to aid its drug war. The administration will also provide $80 million Mexico to purchase of Blackhawk military helicopters.
One reason Republicans worry the administration may strengthen border security at the expense of enforcement elsewhere is Napolitano’s insistence that no new funding will be required to implement the new plan. Observers presume the resources would come from reducing enforcement elsewhere.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says the Obama plan doesn’t go far enough. He favors hiring 1,600 more Customs and Border Patrol agents, and says he will seek $385 million from Congress to do so.
"I don't think it's enough," Lieberman commented on the Obama plan at a Wednesday hearing. "The danger here is clear and present. It threatens to get worse."
Napolitano told Congress Wednesday that her department is working on a contingency plan for sending National Guard troops to the 2,000-mile-long border region. That plan, still several weeks away from completion, would come into play should widespread drug violence spill over into the United States, she said.
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