CBP Discusses Shared Concerns with Mexican Counterparts
A shared border means shared security concerns for the United States and Mexico. A recent coordination meeting between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its Mexican government counterparts sought to highlight and foster a better understanding of the state of the border and the shared concerns of both countries, especially in the areas of countering narcotics, illegal migration, weapons smuggling, and illicit currency.
“Success in any one of these challenges is only truly realized, in my opinion, when we’re all working side-by-side as collaboratively, as transparently, as humanly possible, knowing again that the root of those efforts are shared values, shared visions and shared areas of focus with respect to the responsibilities we have, not only to the oaths that we’ve taken to do the jobs that we do, but the public service that we provide to the wonderful citizens of both our countries,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez during opening remarks of the Border Security Planning and Coordination Meeting Feb. 20 in Mexico City. “We all understand the responsibility we all have to our nations and respective governments. Success in the entirety of these challenges is rooted in taking the incredibly productive collaboration that we’ve had and always seeking to take it to the next level.”
In addition to Perez, a delegation of Mexican and CBP officials held day-long discussions. The U.S. Border Patrol and CBP’s Air and Marine and Field Operations components, as well as representatives from the U.S. State Department were all part of the meeting. The discussions included the flow of people and goods north from Mexico and CBP’s intervention in stopping combat arms flowing south into Mexico, fueling the drug gangs and cartels that make both sides of the border unsafe.
“We know [the firearm threat] fuels so much of this criminal ecosystem,” Perez said, adding coordination with the Mexican government is crucial to stopping this illicit two-way trade. “That is not only one of illegal firearms moving south here into Mexico, but one that is a vicious cycle of laundered financing, drug smuggling, and abuse of very vulnerable illegal [migrants].”
The issue of illegal weapons flowing into Mexico was on the mind of Laredo, Texas, Port Director Greg Alvarez, one of the CBP participants who discussed shared concerns with his Mexican counterparts. In an interview after the meeting, he pointed out that guns going south also have a profound impact on the security of those people to the north.
“In the last six months, 20 Mexican state police have been killed,” by the cartels operating just across the border from his port of entry, Alvarez said. Many of those fellow law enforcement officers died from high-caliber weapons, which could have come from the U.S. “It’s an issue that affects both sides of the border, and that high casualty rate is totally unacceptable.”
Alvarez said he and his Mexican counterparts want to look at the whole picture of the problem.
“Alien smuggling, currency smuggling, drug smuggling and firearms: These criminal networks are really involved in all of it,” Alvarez said. “These are all interrelated issues for us when we’re looking at the counter-network implications for the work we do. Once we get into the investigative part of it, we want to deliver a greater consequence for those criminal organizations. We really got to approach the entirety of the problem.”
Officials from both sides of the border addressed the recent massive migrant caravans that made their ways from Central America north through Mexico and overwhelmed CBP resources along the Southwest border. The number of illegal border crossers apprehended between the ports of entry and those deemed inadmissible at the ports in the last fiscal year hit nearly 1 million. That was the most in 15 years and consisted largely of a population of Central American families with children, instead of the single males Border Patrol stations were originally designed to handle (see the recent Frontline articles, “Border Crisis: CBP’s Response and “Border Crisis: CBP Fights Child Exploitation”). CBP officials pointed out that the huge numbers forced the agency to divert resources away from other priority missions for Mexico and the U.S., such as southbound weapons.
The crisis prompted CBP to take emergency measures to put up temporary facilities in Texas and Arizona to house the massive numbers of illegal aliens. Also, the U.S. implemented new policies to require certain illegal aliens to remain in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings in the U.S. In addition, Mexican officials started cracking down more on migrants who were trying to transit the country just to enter the U.S. illegally, standing up a new national guard force in Mexico to help stem the flow. Results have been successful, and the numbers of illegal aliens have returned to normal levels, as well as the proportion of families trying to enter illegally returning to lower levels.
Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Chris Clem from El Paso, Texas, was also part of what he called a first-of-its-kind, historic meeting. Coming from a Border Patrol agent’s perspective, he looked at what Mexico has done to stem the tide of illegal immigration.
“Border security is national security for both countries,” Clem said, adding his gratitude to his Mexican counterparts for the steps they’ve taken, especially during last summer’s illegal immigration crisis. “Without the Mexican national guard in place helping to stem the flow, we would not have gotten out of the situation we were in as quickly as we did. We see them out there every day and coordinate with their leadership to make sure they’re in the places we see the biggest threat. That has been a critical, binational partnership, and I cannot thank Mexico enough for them stepping up and doing that,” making Border Patrol’s job better.
Perez thanked his colleagues at CBP and those Mexican officials working so hard for border security, and he encouraged officials from both sides of the border to continue to find ways to make that mutually shared border a safer one for all.
“The work is not done,” he said. “We take this charge very seriously and earnestly, and that is why you’re seeing today the ongoing, very, very innovative and forward-leaning efforts by this group.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between official ports of entry. CBP is charged with securing the borders of the United States while enforcing hundreds of laws and facilitating lawful trade and travel.