|Leaders of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition/Barry|
The new border counternarcotics strategy of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy reaches out to border security hawks with special funding initiatives.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the new strategy “highlights the Obama administration’s support for promoting strong border communities by expanding access to drug treatment and supporting programs that break the cycle of drug use, violence, and crime.”
ONDCP says that the border region “has borne the brunt of the consequences of the drug trade.”
For the first time, the strategy includes as one of its ten strategic goals its aim to build “Strong Communities” along the southwestern border. The strategy’s “Strong Communities” goal is to “develop strong and resilient communities that resist criminal activity and promote healthy lifestyles.” This goal directly mirrors one of the four strategic goals of the Merida Initiative, namely “building strong and resilient communities.”
The implication of this strategic goal is that illegal drug flows across the southwestern border disproportionately impact border communities in the rates of drug consumption, drug-related crime and violence, and overall public safety.
Reading about this new “Strong Communities” initiative, one might conclude that border communities are weaker, more crime-ridden, more violent, and more drug-infested than nonborder communities.
Yet neither DHS nor ONDCP present any facts that would support this assessment.
The facts that are readily available from the FBI demonstrate that, at least with respect to crime levels, the immediate border communities and the wider southwestern border region have crime rates that among the lowest in the nation. What is more, these border crime rates have been steadily falling, more or less paralleling the national decline -- even as the percentage of drugs entering from Mexico has increased, and even as drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006 has soared.
The ONDCP border strategy ignores what is perhaps the central fact of crossborder drug flows, namelythat these drugs are not destined for borderland consumption but rather go directly to major distribution centers in the country’s interior, mostly major U.S. cities. That is not to say, of course, that drug consumption and trafficking aren’t problems in the border region a drug problem. But clearly these problems aren’t more serious public safety problems on the border than they are in the country’s interior – and if, measured by crime rates, may regarded as less severe problems on the border.
Breaking the Rules on the Border
The border security buildup has stimulated a minor economic boom along the southwestern border. As alarm about the security of the border has intensified -- paralleling the spreading drug-related violence in Mexico -- politicians and law enforcement officials of border states have seized the limelight to demand more federal dollars for border security.
Yet there is little evidence of spillover violence and no evidence of rising crime rates. Nonetheless, the Obama administration has followed the path charted by its predecessor and increased federal/local collaboration in counternarcotics and immigration enforcement in the border region – in the name of both national security and public safety.
Even the line separating federal and local immigration enforcement becomes ever less distinct with the rise of state immigration-enforcement initiatives and the expansion of collaborative programs such as Secure Communities, the Obama administration is pursuing increased federal-local collaboration in border security programs.
The 2011 strategy takes two further steps to placate the funding demands of border communities. As part of its Strong Communities strategic thrust, ONDCP, which coordinates all federal counterdrug programs, calls for DHS and DOJ to increase border security funding for border communities and to ease existing restrictions on this funding.
ONDCP calls for increased criminal justice and law enforcement funding to the border, stating:
Federal grant programs currently allocate funds based upon violent crime rates and other criteria that do not fully reflect the threat faced by communities along the Southwest border. Year-to-year grant funding should be expanded as appropriate to allow local agencies to spend funds over a longer period of time to facilitate planning and more effective use of grant dollars.
In other words, ONDCP calls for a border security exception to DOJ’s assistance programs to permit disproportionate funding to border communities -- whose low crime levels don’t reflect the high often politically generated levels of alarm about border security and public safety.
In another bow to border politicians and law enforcement officials, mainly border sheriffs, ONDCP calls for changes in border security funding programs such as Operation Stonegarden to permit federal dollars to be used for new hires, not just for overtime and equipment as current regulations stipulate. If DHS and DOJ enact this change, it will make recipient law-enforcement agencies structurally dependent on border security programs – a condition that both departments have consistently said they intended to avoid.
Next: Intelligence Proliferation in Counternarcotics