U.S. Security Chief Calls Gangs Threat To Mexican Government, Defends 'Virtual' Fences

Friday, September 28th 2007, 8:48 pm
By: News On 6

PUERTO PENASCO, Mexico (AP) _ Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday that the United States and Mexico were discussing joint programs to fight drug gangs and organized crime, and defended a plan to install ``virtual'' fences along the border.

Speaking before the 25th annual meeting of U.S. and Mexican border governors at this gulf of California resort, Chertoff said his department is on target to reach goals for strengthening the Border Patrol to 18,000 agents nationwide and approving the virtual fences, which use sensors and cameras to detect border crossers.

Chertoff defended the project but acknowledged that ``we're slightly delayed _ this is not uncommon for high-technology projects.'' He said he hopes final testing on the components of the virtual fences will be held within a month.

He also praised the Mexican government for a nationwide offensive launched early this year against drug cartels, including the deployment of more than 20,000 soldiers and federal police agents in states hit hard by violence blamed on the gangs. The country has also been rocked by a series of gas-pipeline bombings claimed by leftist rebels.

``I have nothing but good things to say about the approach that President (Felipe) Calderon has taken to dealing with organized crime in Mexico, which is a very serious threat to the authority of the government and law enforcement in parts of Mexico,'' Chertoff said.

On Thursday, Calderon called on the United States to do more to stem the flow of weapons and drug money into Mexico, noting that the illegal weapon trade has resulted in the deaths of dozens of Mexican law enforcement officials.

``We have to tackle crime on both sides of the border, that means the flow of drugs, the flow of weapons and the flow of money,'' Chertoff said.

``We have been working with the Mexican government to talk about some partnership activities we could undertake, working on both sides of the border to deal with this issue,'' he said, without giving details. Mexico has done ``an outstanding job in identifying major drug-trafficking king pins and extraditing them and incapacitating them,'' Chertoff added.

At the meeting, Calderon and governors from both sides of the border called for federal help in alleviating massive traffic jams at U.S.-Mexico border crossings, saying the U.S. need to address security concerns should not mean long bottlenecks.

Describing the gridlock, Baja California Gov. Eugenio Elorduy said, ``We have the biggest parking lots in the world, at all times of day, and moreover, it is creating a pollution problem.

``Unfortunately, we are not getting any response from the U.S. government.''

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano said the long border waits were part of the conference's discussions Friday.

``Our missing partner is the federal government, and that is where we need to put our efforts next,'' said Napolitano, a Democrat. ``Our federal governments can no longer satisfy us simply by coming to a meeting and giving a speech. What we require is resources and dedication and priority setting that has yet to be seen.''

The governors agreed to support the use of ``tandem'' inspection booths at crossings, where one booth located immediately behind another allows two vehicles to pass through at a time.

But U.S. officials were focused largely on security issues.

The U.S. government has announced proposed routes and designs for some of the 370 miles of fencing and 200 miles of vehicle barriers to be put in place by the end of 2008.