April 3, 2009

Napolitano visits the border, community express concerns

By Mariana Martinez

It is not random that Department of Homeland Security Secretary, decided to start her border tour in the Tijuana/San Diego region, as it isn’t random that she is talking about very hot items such as border security, drug traffic and US tourism to Mexico.

Yet, for the region one of the most important announcements had to do with border crossings.

“One of the reasons we are here today is because Congress just approved a stimulus plan that includes more than 400 million dollars to invest in the ports of entry” Napolitano said in her visit at the Otay port on Wednesday.

“To make sure that legal commerce can go from one side of the border to the other in the fastest way possible and we can do a better job in seizing drugs, arms and the large flow of cash that are destined to finance these cartels.”

When talking about US tourists going to Mexico, —at the start of spring break—, Napoli-tano showed her long standing relationship with the border by saying that Americans are generally careful and there is no indication that US tourists are being targeted [in violent acts].

With recent tension between countries, such as the recent declaration that Mexico is “a failed state,” along with Border Truck Program and the economic sanctions on US products, Napolitano was asked about her feelings on working with Mexico.

“I’ve never felt better about the relationship I have with the Mexican government, about their ability and dedication. And I say that as someone who has been dealing with Mexican issues since I was DA in Arizona, in 1993, a long time ago, so that’s why I say this is a unique opportunity for the US” she said.

She added that America has a lot to lose with the recent violence in Mexico.

“This is not only an issue of the border, or the southern states, these drug cartels have wide distribution and we know that there are at least 230 communities across the country that are penetrated, that is why this is a National Security issue,” she concluded.

On Thursday, her tour took her to Jiutepec, Morelos, where she attended an Executive Session on the creation and implementation of a new Arms Traffic Law for Mexico and concludeds her tour Friday at the World Trade Bridge at Laredo, Texas.

But in time for the visit, The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (SDIRC), an alliance of more than 25 organizations working on the front lines of border issues, voiced their concerns that the Obama Administration’s multi-agency enforcement plan, announced last week, will harm rather than help the region.

“Prior efforts to increase enforcement at our borders have resulted in a heavy-handed law enforcement presence not only at and near the border crossings but in border communities and in the interior,” stated Estela de los Rios, who chairs the SDIRC.

“We regularly receive reports of abuse of authority targeted at border residents, citizens and immigrants alike,” added Andrea Guerrero from the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of the SDIRC, citing the case of Vince Peppard, a US citizen who was mistreated at an interior checkpoint, for asserting his right to decline to consent to a search of his car.

SDIRC members consider that any increase in federal enforcement activity must include meaningful oversight and accountability: including better training of officers, a stronger complaint process at the Office of the Inspector General, an external and independent oversight commission.

They also ask for a more transparent process for entry denials and status revocations and caution against using local police for federal immigration enforcement purposes.

“This would undermine trust between local police and the community,” said Pedro Rios from the American Friends Service Committee. “Local police best serve the community when they are able to work with community members, regardless of status, to identify and respond to criminal threats, local police should not be required or encouraged through grants, such as Operation Stonegarden, or other means to enforce immigration laws.”

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