Blame game

February 05, 2006

The recent discovery of a 2,400-foot-long underground tunnel linking Tijuana and San Diego, and packed with more than two tons of marijuana, is just another example of the sorry state of affairs at the U.S.-Mexico border. The tunnel was the 21st discovered since security measures were heightened on the U.S. side of the border after the 9/11 attacks.

Increased border security and joint anti-smuggling efforts by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities have undoubtedly forced Mexican traffickers to go literally underground to sneak contraband and migrants into the United States. But rising violence at the border, including shootings and rock attacks on U.S. border guards, has raised legitimate questions about whether Mexico is doing enough to stop outlaws running roughshod over the frontier.

Mexico's foreign minister didn't help matters when he suggested U.S. Army troops may have disguised themselves as Mexican military soldiers to protect a small motorcade of drug smugglers who were being chased by sheriff's officers near the border in El Paso, Texas, last month. The men in military uniform held the American officers at gunpoint while one vehicle was emptied of its cargo and the occupants were allowed to flee into Mexico. Nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana was found in another vehicle.

Given the well-documented corruption among Mexican police and military, the foreign minister's accusations seem misplaced.

Tony Garza, the U.S ambassador to Mexico, accused Mexican government officials of being focused "on public relations instead of public security" and urged them to take the elevated violence more seriously. Mexican leaders should heed this advice, especially if they hope to have a new migration agreement with the United States.

Congress may soon take up a guest-worker proposal that would allow thousands of Mexicans to work legally in this country. Mexican officials have lobbied aggressively for the plan. They should be equally aggressive about securing their border and should start by extraditing more key drug traffickers to the U.S. to stop them from running drug enterprises from Mexican jails, and increasing the pay of police and judicial figures to reduce the influence of bribery.

Lawmakers impatient with Mexico's inability - some say unwillingness - to stanch the flow of illegal migrant crossings are more likely to support the proposal if they believe Mexico is trying.

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