Vehicle checks at border paying off

Published 16 February 10 01:58 PM

Authorities seize cash, guns bound for Mexico

This article has excerpts of an article in the San Diego Union by Leslie Berestein in February 2010.

As we know, most of the guns used by the drug lords and their kingpins in Mexico are brought in from the US side… thus, the Mexican government had been asking the US administration to help with this matter…. Let alone most of the drugs go to the US because of its amazing demand for them, now we have guns and lots of money coming in from the country on the north.

Luckily Baja California and mostly cities like Rosarito and Ensenada have seen a drop in crime rates unseen before in Mexico or almost anywhere in the area. Crime is at a 5 year low says Baja’s governor, Guadalupe Osuna at an interview in San Diego, Ca.

According to Ms. Berestein’s report, last spring, U.S. officials announced a $400 million effort to tighten border security, this time with an emphasis on southbound inspections of vehicles headed into Mexico to check for contraband cash and firearms.

Since then, inspectors have made some impressive discoveries — and in addition to the money and guns, some unexpected ones.

Because of California’s relatively strict firearms laws, gun seizures have been minimal compared with discoveries made farther east, particularly in Texas. However, large amounts of cash have been found.

Shortly after midnight one night in September, Border Patrol agents and customs officers discovered nearly $500,000 in cash stuffed in a duffel bag in a minivan heading south through the Otay Mesa crossing, on the east side of Tijuana. In addition, inspectors found that the driver and his brother, who was his passenger, had more than $1,000 between them in their wallets. They were charged with felony cash smuggling and failure to declare.

The idea of the southbound inspections, touted by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during a visit to San Diego early last year, is to weaken Mexican drug cartels. The cartels rely on the southbound flow of drug profits as well as U.S.-bought weapons to arm their foot soldiers in the turf wars that have plagued border cities in recent years. Cars are checked sporadically, with officers singling out vehicles that arouse suspicion.

From Oct. 1 to the end of December, there were four incidents of guns seized and close to $760,800 in currency discovered by customs agents and other law enforcement officers conducting southbound checks through San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, both part of San Diego County, according to Customs and Border Protection officials. That is more than half the amount of currency seized during fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 30.

“Anytime we can stop that drug money from leaving the country, anytime you can deny the drug cartels ill-gotten gains, it is a success,” De Cima said.

Along the Southwestern border, more than $3 million in currency was discovered during the southbound inspections in the same period, according to Customs and Border Protection, and there have been 31 incidents of weapons seized.

With the border checks held on an irregular basis, however, success is difficult to quantify.

Part of the attempt to starve the cartels has included beefed-up efforts by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to monitor gun dealers and deter the use of straw buyers and the trafficking of firearms, including assault weapons, into California from other states with looser gun laws.

In a series of operations, the bureau’s San Diego office seized more than 500 firearms in fiscal 2009, more than twice as many as three years earlier, said Shawn Hoben, the bureau’s resident agent in charge. Some of those included firearms trafficked from other states.

“Were they headed to Mexico? We’ll never know,” Hoben said. “It’s hard to say how many guns we have stopped from going into Mexico.”

Gun seizures by customs and other officials in southbound checks were minimal at San Diego County ports of entry compared with the checkpoint at Laredo, Texas. De Cima said that checkpoint had 21 incidents of guns seized between Oct. 1 and the end of December.

Nonetheless, state officials said last week that the San Diego and Imperial County sheriff’s departments will share a $3.3 million federal grant with state law enforcement officers to focus on arms trafficking into Mexico. The local and state agencies will work closely with ATF on the issue.

Mexican officials have also started doing southbound checks, using new technology and newly trained officials.

Along with all the new captures of drug lords throughout Mexico, it might seem that the “good guys” are wining the war on drugs… however, with the demand still in place and the many US drug lords “hidden” on the US side, it would be hard. At least the security in Rosarito and Ensenada has gotten back to the way it was in the good-old-days of the nineties and the beginning of the last decade… this is a great improvement!


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