Senate Democratic Whip Compares Sealing the Mexican Border to Trying to Keep Drugs Off of I-95
“The Mexico-U.S. border, almost 2,000 miles long, is the most frequently crossed international border in the world -- 250 million people cross annually, one-half million cross illegally,” Durbin said on Tuesday during a hearing on drug enforcement in Mexico and Colombia conducted by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law.
“So when there are folks who talk about sealing the border it’s like saying, 'well, we’re going to go out to I-95 and we’re going to guarantee that no narcotics and no guns are going to pass illegally on interstate 95 today.' Imagine the challenge that would pose to any governmental unit trying to enforce it,” Durbin, the subcommittee chairman, said.
Interstate 95, which is approximately 1,900 miles long, runs along the east coast from Maine to Florida. It runs through some of the most densely populated urban areas in the country, including New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.
The Illinois Democrat said the United States needs to "look beyond just the technology and the obstacles” and address the “situation south of the border” that, he said, is creating this force as people move north.”
Durbin further said that before pointing the finger at someone else, the United States should take responsibility for its role in “fueling” drug violence in Mexico.
“I think it is disingenuous -- disingenuous of this committee and perhaps the Congress, [and] maybe the American people -- to stand in critical judgment of the situations in Mexico and Colombia without first conceding that our own failure when it comes to drug laws, establishing cohesive and effective ways to reduce the demand for drugs, has created this situation,” he said.
“In fact, it is our U.S. dollars and our U.S. weapons that are fueling this war-like situation in Mexico and instability in many other countries,” he said.
“We have a special responsibility not just to stand in criticism of what is happening in those countries but to acknowledge our own shortcomings and failures,” Durbin said.
A top Justice Department attorney, meanwhile, testified at the hearing that Mexico’s conviction rate for those who are arrested for drug trafficking is only 2 to 3 percent.
Lanny Breuer, who is an assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division, said Mexico needs to revamp its judicial system because its current one is not working.
“There’s absolutely no question that as Mexico confronts this remarkable national threat and challenge that it has to reform its judicial system,” Breuer testified.
David Johnson, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, echoed Breuer’s sentiment saying, “(T)he law enforcement and judicial institutions in Mexico were not sufficient to deal with the challenges they face from these well-organized drug cartels.”
He suggested that the Mexican justice system “does have to move to an adversarial system” similar to the one used in the United States, where there prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges are involved in the conviction process.
Johnson then agreed with Sen. Durbin, saying that the challenges Mexico faces in dealing with the drug cartels “is fueled significantly by demand of the United States for narcotics.”
In light of the immigration reform debate, Durbin asked Johnson and Breuer, “(H)ow much needs to be invested to make certain that there’s professional law enforcement and a rule of law south of the border as well as in our own country?”
“I think its absolutely critical that we do have law enforcement in Mexico, that we help our friends in Mexico have the institutions that they can protect their people, that their people can live in peace, that with living in peace they can have economic prosperity,” Breuer said.
“Of course, if we don’t, if we don’t do that, if our Mexican friends can’t achieve that there’s no fence large enough to prevent the very forces [Mexicans being driven north because they don’t feel safe in their own country] you’re describing,” he said.
“We have to have a comprehensive approach, we obviously have to have law enforcement, we have to secure borders, but we absolutely have to help our friends in Mexico have vital and effective institutions,” Breuer added.
During his opening remarks, Durbin acknowledged that most of the drugs in the United States came from Mexico and Colombia.
“Let’s be clear, combating drug trafficking in Mexico and Colombia is a vital U.S. national security interest," said Durbin. "According to the Justice Department, Mexican drug cartels are active in every state in more than 230 American cities, and while cocaine production fell to an 11-year low in 2009, Colombia remains the world’s largest cocaine producer."
However, he repeated, “the insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keep the drug cartels in business.”