Border Czar says Mexico southbound searches to continue

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Border Czar Alan Bersin visited an El Paso bridge to get a first hand look at a strategy to combat powerful drug cartels. But in this case the officers were checking cars headed across the border into Mexico.

The goal: catch smugglers who supply the cartels with cash and weapons. The Obama administration stepped up "southbound" searches in mid-march when it announced further measures to help Mexico battle drug cartels.

On Thursday Border Czar Bersin touted the two month surge in such checkpoints for cash seizures totaling more than 23 million dollars. ($70.4 million for fiscal 09)Bersin could only cite figures for fiscal 09 when it came to weapons. It's 1000 weapons and 100,000 ammo cartridges discovered since last October. A breakdown of the numbers to show the past couple of months was not available to the media. (I will keep asking).

A few weeks ago I asked Customs and Border Protection for these same figures for the past couple of months, I was told southbound checks led to the discovery of 16 weapons border wide. Whatever the final numbers, it's clearly just fraction of what makes it across the border. Mexican authorities suspect 2000 guns are smuggled into the country from the U.S. on a daily basis.

As Bersin toured the bridge traffic backed up onto the adjacent roads and horns blared. The checks are trying the patience of border residents are used to waiting in lines to enter the U.S. but accustomed to breezing across the border into Mexico. After making through the surprise outbound checkpoints, some motorists encounter Mexican customs and/or the military who also search their vehicles.

The stressful border crossing was in sharp contrast to the Czar's first stop: a jovial birthday celebration for the Border Patrol. I snapped a photo of the Czar with David Teague, the longest serving agent on the force.

The U.S. government created the agency 86 years ago. Back then the concern was illegal alcohol and there were more agents on the Canadian border. These days the focus is on Mexico and illegal drugs.Since it's birth, the Border Patrol has grown from a small mounted force to a largest law enforcement agency in the U.S., a massive organization of 19,000 men and women

They're charged with protecting the country from terrorists, drug traffickers and smugglers of every kind. "This is not about getting to some end state and saying we're there and it's over," he said. This is about building an institution capable of constant transformation, constant and continuous improvement so that it has the capacity, the ability to deal with threats as they change.

During his border tour Czar Berstin talked about another major change: the blurring of border enforcement. "For the first time both countries are concerned not only with what comes into their country but what goes out of their country," he explained. The Border Czar said the cooperation with Mexico in fighting transnational criminal organizations is unprecedented. "This is not sentimental; it's in the national security interest of both our nations."