AL DÍA:Traveling the Texas-Mexico Border

2/27/2012, Eric Olson and Chris Wilson of the Mexico Institute are currently driving the  Texas-Mexico border, beginning in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, ending in Brownsville/Matamoros, and blogging along the way.

Day 6, Laredo. Some quick observations about security issues in Laredo, TX.

We have just finished our first full day in Laredo, Texas and have begun to hear similar reports to what we heard in El Paso, with a few important differences as well.  Here are a few similarities:

There is very little evidence of spill over violence from Laredo’s cross-border sister city, Nuevo Laredo.  There are more murders in Laredo than El Paso, but the connection of these crimes to their cross-border partners (Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo) is largely non-existent.

There are no reports of serious terrorist threats entering the U.S. at either border crossing.  “Red flags” emerge when there are apprehensions of “OTMs” or “other than Mexicans” from countries with known terrorist activity, but even in these instances the links to actual terrorist activity is very thin.  One example given is of an OTM from Colombia, where the FARC guerrilla group and a designated terrorist organization is active.  But the individual apprehended is not necessarily tied to the FARC.

Port and Border officials report the seizure of illegal drugs, but primarily marijuana.  Cocaine is much more uncommon. Liquid methamphetamines in soda bottles are appearing in Laredo more often than before.

In Laredo, the POE seems to have adequate personnel and technology to do a good job of inspections.  We were impressed by the creativity and smart management employed by the Port Director and his staff to carry out their mission.  The 6 Laredo crossing points (including one air field) handle the largest volume of commercial traffic on the US-Mexico border.  There are often more than 5,000 truck crossings per day, and 10 – 12 train “pulls” per day, averaging 110 cars per pull.  According to the Laredo Port Director, 35% of commercial trucks are inspected in some way – either X-rays, K-9, and/or officer inspection.

For its part, the Border Patrol seems to have a tremendous amount of resources – personnel, technology and infrastructure.  The only fencing in the area is a one-mile section near a school.  The Rio Grande is the primary barrier to entry between POEs.  While nationwide, apprehensions of illegal border crossers has trended down, currently at 1972 levels, the Laredo sector has experienced an upward trend  - an average of 150 per day, compared to roughly 25 per day in the El Paso sector.

With so much commercial and human traffic entering the U.S. in the Laredo area, and with a relatively small amount of illicit drugs seized, one is left to surmise that there is a lot (maybe a huge amount) of illegal drugs entering the U.S. here.  In my estimation, this IS NOT due to incompetence or laxness on the part of the hard working U.S. border and port agents.  And while improvements could be made in infrastructure and technology, they have benefited from a great deal of training, technology and infrastructure investments to support their efforts.

The problem seems to be in the apparent impossibility of their task.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that the border is not a good place to try to stop the illegal drug trade.  To do so is setting ourselves and our valued public servants up for failure.  There are new tools and strategies at the border that can be more fully deployed, but it strikes me that the current efforts can only be partially effective, at best, and may be more costly than beneficial when it comes to stopping illegal drugs.  When it comes to stopping terrorism, the evidence points to a similar conclusion – the border is not the primary solution.

–Eric Olson

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