Thu, Nov 05, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US reports increase in guns, cash seizures at border

AP AND AFP , SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, AND WASHINGTON

US authorities on Tuesday reported a spike in seizures of guns and cash along the Mexican border since they began assigning more agents to stem the flow of southbound contraband.

Nearly 600 illegal weapons were seized along the border by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Protection officials from March through September, an increase of more than 50 percent from the same period last year.

The agencies seized more than US$40 million in cash along the border from the middle of March through September, nearly double the amount in the year-ago period.

The seizures represent a tiny fraction of business done by Mexican and Colombian drug lords who, the US Drug Enforcement Administration said, generate those drug lords generate US$18 billion to US$39 billion in wholesale drug proceeds in the US each year. Cash proceeds are smuggled across the border to Mexico.

But US officials said the figures demonstrate that heightened enforcement was paying off.

“The increases in seizures is no coincidence,” said John Morton, Homeland Security Department’s assistant secretary for ICE.

“It’s a direct result of increased resources, increased emphasis that we are placing on the southwest border,” he said.

Senior officials from immigration, border patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives met in San Diego through yesterday to discuss ways to combat the flow of guns and drug proceeds south of the border amid Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s nationwide crackdown on drug traffickers.

Mexico asked US authorities to trace 12,073 firearms last year, up from only 2,906 in 2007 and 2,654 in 2006, the firearms bureau said.

Of those successfully traced, the bureau said about 90 percent came from the US.

Bureau acting director Kenneth Melson said that the lack of training in Mexico is the main obstacle to increasing weapons traces even more. Weapons tracing involves entering serial numbers and other information into a special computer system.

“I think [Mexico’s] intent is to try to give them all to us,” Melson said in an interview. “They’re just not in a position to be able to do that right now ... It’s a huge effort.”

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated a veteran DEA agent as the new head of anti-drug operations at the Department of Homeland Security.

Grayling Williams, whose nomination must be approved by the US Senate, has 28 years of federal and local law enforcement experience, including rising to a senior position in the DEA, the White House said in a statement.

If approved, Williams will head the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement.

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