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Send lawyers and scanners … not guns and money

24 June 2009

Under a new agreement signed Monday, border crossings between Mexico and the United States should be better scrutinized than before… although we’re told the process (involving more scanning equipment and dogs) should allow the process to move relatively rapidly.

Erin Kelly at the Arizona Republic mentions that in addition to “biometric-identification technology, mobile X-ray units and upgraded license-plate readers, as well as inspection equipment to screen all rail traffic into Mexico,” one important innovation that should ease one legitimate border traffic hassle:

To encourage cross-border tourism, Mexico and the U.S. are working on a customs form that would be recognized by both nations so tourists and businesses engaged in trade don’t have to fill out two separate forms.

Jeff Bliss for Bloomberg, fleshes out the Arizona Republic story with emphasis on other security measures, including:

… state and local police in patrol cars will be given access to federal databases so they can check if suspects they pull over are linked to drug cases.

In addition, U.S. authorities and Mexican police will jointly monitor cars carrying weapons or money as they cross the border to deliver their contraband to cartel chiefs.

Two of the big items — searching for cross-border tunnels from Mexico into the United States — and cracking down on gun running into Mexico might involve new technology, but are old, old problems, going back to the beginning of the Border Patrol.

El Paso historian Leon Metz (reprinted in Scott Parks’ “Chinese In Mexico” blog) writes:

… since the Chinese were denied legal entry into this country [after 1882], they commenced slipping in by way of Mexico, and thereafter walked north.

During this period a resident Mexican could cross north across the international line with no delays and no papers. Hence, the initial U.S. Border Patrol arose. In popular and local parlance, they were usually referred to as “Chinese Immigration Agents.”

… this period of years, 1870-1910, stories constantly and steadily arose of tunnels under the Rio Grande, and tunnels meandering through various areas and regions, houses and businesses. The only reason for these tunnels was to smuggle Chinese into the country.

Attempts to control gun-running in the early 20th century, as I wrote in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos, wss also responsible for an innovative bureaucratic response:

Where Mexican women had always accompanied the army, and in the Revolution were to serve as soldiers and officers, the United States had always reserved uniformed service for men. In the thinking of the time, women were afforded special protection, and it was improper for a man to touch a woman. Women in those times did not seem to have legs—at least they were never mentioned in polite conversation. Women, both in the United States and in México, wore long skirts. The customs service was unable to stop the arms traffic by 1910, and they knew that Mexican and Mexican-American women were crossing the border with rifles, pistols, and even hand grenades tied to their unmentionable, untouchable legs. President Taft, after some uncomfortable discussions with his advisers and with great reluctance, authorized training and hiring the first female uniformed service personnel in the United States—female customs agents.

And, in passing, it might be noted that the head bureaucrat when it comes to border security and customs is a female, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano… who was asked by a Mexican reporter why the United States wanted to crack down on smuggling into Mexico.  Napolitano said “There is shared responsibility going both ways,” which doesn’t really answer the question, to my thinking… not completely, anyway.

Mexico doesn’t HAVE to control the narcotics going north, and the United Nations Charter of Human Rights states that people have a right to emigrate if they so desire.  The Consitutiton of the United States gives people the right to bear arms, and is intrepreted as giving just about anyone the right to buy them. The Juarez Doctrine says countries should stay out of each others internal affairs… which comes down to this.  If the U.S. wants Mexico to prevent narcotics (and people) from moving north, then the United States has to prevent cash and guns from moving south.

Mexico produces and/or manufactures (or, when it comes to cocaine, imports) more than enough narcotics to meet its own very small internal demand.  The United States has more than enough weapons to meet its internal needs (and wants) and what it does inside its own borders with the narcotics or weapons is their own business.

Mexico is chosing to make narcotics use a non-criminal issue, and focus manpower and firepower on narcotics exporters.  The U.S. … which has many, many more users choses to treat use as a criminal issue (which is the country’s internal affair, and none of Mexico’s concern), but until now has done almost nothing to control firearms exports.  That IS Mexico’s concern, and a quid pro quo is well in order.

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