Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Madam Chairwoman, thank you for holding today’s hearing. This is an important topic that threatens our national security. As the Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, I’ve been closely monitoring the rising violence by Mexican drug cartels and the efforts of our federal, state, and local law enforcement officers in trying to contain it. I look forward to learning more about the situation at the Southwest Border from these law enforcement agents on the front lines.
Today’s hearing builds upon the record from a March 2009 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on law enforcement responses to the Mexican Drug Cartels. At that hearing, we heard that the root cause of violence along the Southwest Border is the drug cartels, also referred to as Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs). DTOs are not the drug cartels of yesterday that only sought to move drugs in and money out. DTOs are interested in expanding their criminal enterprise to any available outlet, be it smuggling drugs, money, people, or weapons. DTOs also are interested in controlling all criminal activity through specific corridors or sectors along the border and are fighting with other cartels to control these lucrative routes.
The violence along the Southwest Border has increased significantly since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006. President Calderon has prioritized efforts to combat DTOs and narcotics trafficking as one of the main policy objectives of his administration. He also has been instrumental in cracking down on the DTOs that control the production, trafficking, and distribution of dangerous drugs. I applaud President Calderon for his commitment to combating these violent drug cartels.
Yet despite these efforts, a staggering amount of drugs and contraband continues to be smuggled over the Southwest Border. Year after year, the Southwest Border with Mexico remains the primary transit route for illegal narcotics into the United States. In the year 2000 about 75 percent of all cocaine produced in South America was shipped through Mexico into the United States, but today that amount had reached 90 percent. It is clear that the biggest vulnerability to illegal narcotics smuggling is along the Southwest Border with Mexico.
I’m interested to hear about law enforcement’s – and in particular the federal government’s - response to the rising violence that is the result of increased pressure on these smuggling routes. The violence has reached levels that can be described best as all out warfare. There have been more than 22,700 drug-related murders since enhanced efforts against drug cartels began in December 2006. In Juarez, Mexico alone, a city located right across the Border from El Paso, Texas, 4,700 people have been killed since 2008. While these numbers are staggering, they are only once piece of the violence. DTO’s are increasingly using other brutal tactics such as kidnapping, blackmail, bribery, torture, and executions to push for control of these smuggling routes.
I plan to ask the federal government witnesses about the status of efforts to coordinate their operations at the southwest border. Over the last year, agencies have dedicated more manpower and financial resources to combat DTOs along the border. While more resources are part of the solution, resources without effective coordination run the risk of simply throwing money at a problem and getting little to no result. For example, in March of last year the Government Accountability Office released a report I requested about the coordination and cooperation between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. That report detailed major problems between the DEA and Homeland Security, such as outdated interagency Memorandums of Understanding and long standing jurisdictional disputes that were so bad that GAO was concerned that “officer safety could be compromised.” This was one of the strongest findings I’ve seen from the GAO in a longtime. I want to know what has been done over the last year to fix this problem and where we stand. We cannot allow turf-battles between agencies to put at risk the core mission of securing our border.
I also want to discuss efforts to cut down on money laundering by DTOs. I’ve always believed that the best way to stop criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists is to hit them where it hurts most, in their pocketbooks. To do this, we must ensure that our laws keep pace with the new and emerging trends these criminals and terrorists exploit to fund their endeavors. I’ve heard from a number of law enforcement officials that we urgently need to update our laws to combat evolving trends. I’m working on legislation that will address the concerns I’ve heard from these law enforcement officials. For example, I’ve heard concerns that bulk cash smugglers continue to use loopholes in our laws to evade prosecution. Further, I’ve heard that there are a host of procedural and definitional problems to combat money laundering, such as dealing with comingled funds, changing money laundering as a course of conduct, allowing wiretaps as an investigative tool for money laundering cases, and reverse money laundering operations. My legislation would close these loopholes, strengthen money laundering laws, and clarify ambiguous language. I plan to ask today’s witnesses how closing these loopholes will help combat DTOs.
Finally, I want to learn more about the implementation of the Merida Initiative. I want to hear about the current status of the funding and implementation of these programs because the GAO issued a preliminary report last December which found that “about two-thirds, or approximately $830 million, had been obligated by the end of September , and about 2 percent, or $26 million, had been expended.”I look forward to hearing the testimony from the witnesses and to the opportunity to question them about ways we can strengthen our efforts to attack this multi-faceted problem.