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The U.S.-Mexican border has been the setting for America's longest war, the drug war. The first shots of the drug war at the border were fired during a U.S. Custom's operation on September 21, 1969. The standing president of the United States at that time was Richard Nixon and it was he who initially declared war on illegal drugs. The U.S. Custom's Intercept Operation influenced a unilateral shutdown of the border by the U.S. government. This shutdown exposed the interdependence of border residence which affected them greatly and negatively. The border blockade's actual effect on stemming the tide of illegal drugs crossing the border was negligible (Payan, 2006).
This thesis will research current practices of border security on the border between the United States and Mexico. It will examine the impact of border security on illegal drugs crossing over to the United States from Mexico. This thesis paper will also answer the question: How significant of an impact on illegal drug trafficking do the practices and procedures of the border patrol enforcement have?
Bilateral cooperation between the United States and Mexico has become a trademark of international American relations in recent years. The summit between the two countries' leaders exemplifies the ongoing efforts of both countries commitment to address matter of mutual concern. As declared by the Mexican President, "The most pressing issue between the two countries is drug trafficking and drug consumption" (Sanchez, 2001).
This thesis will not cover American or Mexican sea ports, American or Mexican airports and anything that coincides with these topics. Furthermore, this paper will not entertain any subjective view on the topic at hand, but will objectively examine what is happening on the border and if applicable give probable solutions to stem the tide of illegal drug trafficking.
2: History of Illegal Drugs Entering U.S.
The United States' love affair with illegal drugs began in the counterculture of the 1960's. American's appetite for illegal drugs has escalated from marijuana to heroin and cocaine to the chemical substances consumed in nightclubs throughout the nation. This growing appetite for illegal drugs increased the risks of dealing them and also increased the profits of doing so. Many illegal drug smugglers and producers entered the business of illegal drug trafficking because the costs of smuggling drugs into the United States were fairly low as well as the chances of getting caught.
In the 1970's, illegal drug trafficking boomed all along the United States and Mexican border. The market was large and growing with plenty of willing suppliers. Several small gangs in Mexico sprung up to begin illegal drug trafficking operations along the United States and Mexican border. Mexico was a major supplier of marijuana and heroin. The Columbians supplied most of the cocaine by way of the Caribbean (Payan, 2006).
The United States stemmed the flow of cocaine from Colombia through a series of operations in the Caribbean in the early 1980's. The Colombians soon discovered Mexico and its wide open border with the United States. Two thousand miles of largely unprotected border into the largest illegal drug market in the world could not go unnoticed for long and this became an incredible asset for the Columbians.
The Columbians allied themselves with an established Mexican drug trafficker named Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo. He had consolidated many of the small illegal drug smuggling operations of the 1960's and 1970's into a single organization becoming the main player of the illegal drug trade along the border. Gallardo's organization was already in place and served as a conveyor belt for Columbian cocaine. The Columbian and Gallardo alliance bloomed into a formidable drug Cartel that operated freely through the 1980's (Payan, 2006).
Types of Drugs Entering U.S.
How Illegal Drugs are Entering U.S.
The media talks about illegal drugs being smuggled into the United States by undocumented migrants and has us believe they are the main source of moving illegal drugs. The overwhelming majority of undocumented migrants cross the border on foot between ports of entry and have nothing to do with drug smuggling. Most illegal drugs cross the border into the United States at official points of entry or POE's and hidden in vehicles. Cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines are too valuable to risk crossing between official points of entry in the wilderness. Smugglers can be intercepted by a United States Border Agent, causing considerable losses to an illegal drug organization, according to Tony Payan of South Atlantic Quarterly (Payan, 2006).
The few who risk crossing the border are small-time smugglers and are mostly novices or people who work for small-time drug dealers. They may pose as backpackers or attempt to cross the border with drugs hidden on their bodies at points of entry. These people are recruited by small-time drug dealers and are trained to hike certain trails that may or may not coincide with the preferred routes of undocumented migrants. The amount of drugs that can be transported by a pedestrian is small compared to the amounts that can be hidden in a vehicle.
A more favored method for transporting illegal drugs is by way of motor vehicle. Cars, vans and pickup trucks are used and to facilitate this more difficult method, many dealers build networks of employees and bureaucrats who are willing to offer protection to the organization's operations through payoffs. These organizations pay not only Mexican but American officials handsome rewards for safe passage of their illegal cargo and minimize the risk of losing their merchandise. To gain further protection, these organizations build special compartments in the vehicles where the illegal drugs can be hidden (Payan, 2006).
A vehicle equipped in such a manner is called a nail or clavos. The secret compartments tend to be behind dashboards, in the gas tanks, the spare tire or some other secret compartment in the body of the vehicle. The illegal drugs are wrapped in tinfoil, plastic wrap or other packaging material. In some instances the packages are basted in substances such as oils, gasoline or perfumes to disguise the smell of the illegal drugs so that they are not detected by drug sniffing dogs during inspection of the vehicle at the check point.
A clavos can make it across the border in two ways. The first way is by purely taking a chance. They will show up in hopes of not being detected by the border agents. The other way is going in groups of vehicles including one of these vehicles being easily detectable. The agents will be distracted by this one bust and may neglect thorough inspection of the other vehicles crossing at that same moment.
The significance of the U.S. Customs Intercept operation of 1969 (discussed in earlier chapters) resides in a single fact: It inaugurated an age of illegal drug policy that resulted in the creation and the consolidation of a few large drug cartels. Furthermore, it increased the effectiveness of their drug operations and brought with it an escalation of violence between law enforcement and these criminal organizations.
Corruption is fundamental in any illegal industry and drug trafficking is no exception. Corruption assures the flow of illegal drugs on both sides of the Mexican and United States border. It has also strengthened the hand of large drug cartels because they are the only ones with the necessary funds (millions of dollars) it takes to keep the illegal drug trade running as smoothly as possible.
Drug cartels may have thousands of employees. Their employees include buyers, spotters, smugglers, weapons procurers, executioners and accountants. Law enforcement and politicians are indirectly employed by the cartels by way of pay offs. Mexican border law enforcement are heavily penetrated and are considered vital because they can ensure that illegal drug operations can be conducted without interference. Cartels are becoming professionalized by hiring highly educated individuals who serve as public relations officers. These public relations officers in turn recruit the help of other professionals such as accountants, businessmen to launder money, law enforcement officials, doctors and lawyers.
3: History and Origins of Border Security
The 1980's and 1990's saw a significant increase of illegal migration and drug trafficking into the United States through Mexico. The United States Border Patrol responded with increases in manpower and the implementation of modern technology. Infrared night-vision scopes, seismic sensors and a modern computer processing system helps the border patrol locate, apprehend and process those crossing into the United States illegally.
4: Border Patrol Enforcement
The Department of Homeland Security was established on March 1, 2003 and was the largest reorganization of our federal government in over fifty years. As part of the reorganization, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was created. The CBP was created by unifying all frontline personnel and their functions with law enforcement responsibilities at all United States borders. This includes over three hundred ports of entry of the United States and all areas between the official ports of entry (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2011).
For the first time in history, the United States was able to design a comprehensive strategy for the nation's borders. CBP is the border agent for the United States. At the border points of entry, CBP is made up of U.S. Customs, INS and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. The Border Patrol, which was transferred intact from The INS to the CBP, is responsible for everything between the ports of entry. With the creation of CBP, one agency has the responsibility for the entire border of the nation, for all purposes. The Border Patrol is an extremely important operational component of CBP and their strategy compliments the national strategy for securing U.S. ports of entry as well. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so, it would do little good to secure the ports and not between the ports or vice versa.
The Border Patrol has an ambitious goal for its National Strategy. The new National Strategy embraces and builds upon many of the elements of Operation Gatekeeper and Operation Hold the Line. However, it goes beyond the deterrence strategy embodied in those operations and it is more than a strategy just for the southwest border. The National Strategy of the Border Patrol consists of six core elements to include: securing the right combination of personnel, technology and infrastructure; improving mobility and rapid deployment to quickly counter and interdict based on shifts in smuggling routes and tactical intelligence; deploying defense-in-depth that makes full use of interior checkpoints and enforcement operations calculated to deny successful migration; coordinating and partnering with other law enforcement agencies to achieve their goals; improving border awareness and intelligence; and strengthening the headquarters command structure (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2011).
Achieving the new Border Patrol Strategy requires having the right combination of highly trained and well equipped agents, integrated detection and sensor technology, air and marine assets and strategically placed tactical infrastructure. The Border Patrol use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) wherever they can assist. In 2004, the Border Patrol became the first civilian law enforcement agency in the world to use UAV's to carry out a civilian law enforcement mission.
The strategy provides the framework for the Border Patrol to plan and carry out its missions within the Department of Homeland Security. It provides the necessary goals, objectives, strategies and measures for Border Patrol planning and operations and will be used as the basis for management decisions and resource deployment.
The southwest border with Mexico is approximately two-thousand miles long, some of which consists of extremely inhospitable and harsh terrain. Hundreds of illegal immigrants die each year as a result of failed smuggling missions while attempting to cross the United States and Mexican Border. There are three primary smuggling corridors within these two-thousand miles of border which are: South Texas corridor; West Texas/New Mexico corridor; and California/Arizona corridor. These corridors are mainly dictated by transportation routes, geography and population centers. There are more than one million arrests that the Border Patrol makes along the United States-Mexico border and more than ninety percent of those arrests are made within these smuggling corridors (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2011).
The Border Patrol feels that past experience has shown that a balanced mix of personnel, technology and border infrastructure (roads, lights, fencing and facilities) are critical to expanding control over the Southern Border. The Border Patrol will build on the successes won by the deployment of these resources on the Southern Border and continue to expand state of the art sensor technologies, intelligence, skills and training and nationally driven deployment of personnel and material.
U.S. Border Patrol
5: U.S. Laws on Illegal Drug Trafficking
6: Funding the Drug War
The international border between the United States and Mexico runs from San Diego, California, in the west to Brownsville, Texas in the east. The border traverses a variety of terrain ranging from major urban areas to inhospitable deserts. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, the border's total length is 1,969 miles (see appendix, Dia. 7.1, 7.2). The border between the United States and Mexico spans four U.S. states, six Mexican states and has over twenty commercial railroad crossings. It is the most frequently crossed international border in the world with approximately 250 million people crossing it annually (Washington D.C. Migration Policy Institute, 2011).
The region along the boundary is surrounded by deserts, rugged mountains and two major rivers. These rivers are the Colorado and the Rio Grande which provide life giving waters to the largely arid but fertile lands along the rivers in both countries. The U.S. states along the border running from east to west are: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The Mexican states running along the border are: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. Texas has the longest stretch of border of any U.S. state and California has the shortest border with Mexico. In Mexico, Chihuahua has the longest border while Nuevo Leon has the shortest.
Approximately 11.8 million people live on and around the U.S.-Mexican border. In the counties bordering Mexico, about one quarter of the population live at or below the poverty line. This is over double the national average which is 12%. The unemployment rate in these southern U.S. border counties is 5.6% compared to 4.7% in the rest of the country. The Mexican Border States, however, have an average poverty rate of 28% which is significantly lower than the Mexican national average of 37%. The border area in the United States consists of 48 counties in four states and approximately 300,000 people live in 1300 colonias in Texas and New Mexico. Colonias are unincorporated semi-rural communities filled with substandard housing and unsafe drinking water and/or waste water systems. Communities on the Mexican side of the border generally have less access to basic water and sanitation services than their American counterparts. (Washington D.C. Migration Policy Institute).