U.S. not exempt from border violence

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who met with President-elect Barack Obama on Monday, has vowed to put drug gangsters in his country out of business, and he has backed up his words with actions. Calderon has no other choice if he wants to keep Mexico from turning into a narco-state, but the decision has resulted in a frightening increase in violence, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexican border cities from Matamoros to Tijuana have become battlegrounds for drug gangsters and law-enforcement authorities, with the body count rising by the day. In Tijuana alone, the death toll from drug violence in 2008 reached a reported 829. The total number of slayings due to the drug wars in Mexico reached 5,300 in 2008, more than double the 2,477 reported in 2007.

Frankly, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to perceive that, as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last week, the United States might eventually see a ‘significant spillover’ of violence.

That’s why Chertoff decided to create a ‘contingency plan’ to combat violence along this country’s southern border. Once he has become president, Obama must ensure that his designated Homeland Security director, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, picks up where Chertoff leaves off — not only in finalizing a plan to coordinate with the Pentagon, but also working with Congress to see that the plan is well funded.

Why, after all, should the United States be exempt from the violence when our country represents the biggest market for drug consumption in the world? For decades, the United States has been shielded from significant security threats along its borders by virtue of enjoying good relations with its neighbors. The relationship, as President Calderon and Obama noted, remains strong. Still, the threat of spillover violence is rising because of the battle to control access to the U.S. drug market.

Last month, the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center reported that the same gangsters responsible for Mexico’s violence are taking root here. ‘Mexican drug-trafficking organizations represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States,’ the report said. ‘The influence of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations over domestic-drug trafficking is unrivaled.’

If anything, the U.S. government has been slow to recognize the threat. Gov. Napolitano, fortunately, comes from a border state and is well aware of the problems caused by drug trafficking. Obama’s new national-security team will have its hands full with challenges from the Middle East to South Asia. Some of these challenges may take priority, but none will be closer to home than the threat posed by drug-trafficking violence in Mexico.