Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne: Mexican cartels an 'escalating threat' to U.S.

by Dennis Wagner - Feb. 17, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne told an audience of border-security experts and exhibitors Wednesday that criminal enterprises based in Mexico present "an immediate and escalating threat" to North America because of their ability to sabotage economies and destabilize the Mexican government.

Border Security Expo 2011, an annual symposium and trade show in Phoenix, took on a sober urgency with the Tuesday murder of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico. Because of that incident, ICE Director John Morton canceled his keynote address while other expo speakers said the slaying served as a reminder of violence by crime syndicates south of the border.

Matthew Allen, the ICE special agent in charge for Arizona who replaced Morton as a keynote speaker, said the murder offers a "tragic illustration" of challenges in combating Mexican cartels that "have no regard for human life and play by a different rulebook."

Horne elaborated on that theme later, declaring that there is "nothing more important than stopping the invasion at our border."

"The threat posed by the Mexican criminal enterprises continues to escalate because of persistent popular ignorance and misinformation on both sides of the border," Horne said in his first detailed statement on border security as attorney general. "It does not appear to be widely understood that continued consumption of Mexico-sourced drugs is the direct, root cause of the erosion of free democracy in Mexico, and ultimately the economy of North America."

Horne said Mexican crime rings have expanded into extortion, petroleum heists, kidnapping and other crimes while growing more violent as former soldiers and police officers known as Zetas rise in the narco hierarchy.

Horne said even a "perfect, miraculous wall" on the border could not provide security because cartels now threaten to "drive the U.S.' neighbor and second-largest trading partner into economic ruin in the next few years."

If that happens, he warned, "the criminal enterprises would turn their attention to penetrating the U.S. with diversified criminal activities using the collapsed northern Mexican areas as staging grounds."

Horne said the antidote is a joint-enforcement campaign by the United States and Mexico, along with judicial and police reforms south of the border.

In addition, he called for a "massive public education campaign" aimed at Americans who buy illegal drugs.

"U.S. consumers have dramatically changed attitudes toward drunken driving and smoking once made aware of the consequences," Horne said. "They will also do so with regard to the threat to the economic survival of Mexico, the extreme violence."

While Horne focused on Mexico's struggle, Allen and Mike Fisher, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, described dramatic improvements in federal efforts to secure the border with record levels of manpower, technology and fencing.

"Every key metric we look at shows that our efforts are producing improved results," Allen said.

Fisher said the flow of illegal immigrants, as measured by arrests, has fallen more than 350 percent in the past decade.

Border Security Expo 2011 was Tuesday and Wednesday in Phoenix Convention Center. Joe Cockrell, a spokesman for the event, said more than 1,000 law-enforcement personnel, security-industry representatives and academics attended the conference.

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