The violence continues, the middle class is fleeing Mexico, and evidence mounts that criminal organizations are increasingly active and influential in the United States. Time has proved that boots on the ground provide a powerful deterrent, and, similar to the surge of troops in Iraq, it can change the dynamics of the situation markedly.
Is that the policy we are now pursuing, as troops return from Iraq? No. National Guard troops are being pulled from the border this month. Although ‘aerial assets’ will be employed, fewer than 300 troops will be stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border, compared to 1200 in 2010.
In addition, there are plans to open an unmanned border crossings, the first being in the small Big Bend town of Boquillas. Boquillas has been an active drug crossing in the past, hampered only by the infrastructure in the region on both sides of the border. Prior administrations saw the value in closing the crossing for security reasons. With the announcement of an unmanned crossing, there likely will be a fight for control of the tiny plaza, and the mostly quiet town likely will become another statistic in the violent turf battles. Is this sound policy? A border crossing with no enforcement?
Yes, there are some in the borderlands that deny there is a problem. To some, denial is necessary for survival.
Acknowledging the activity may make those persons a target, and/or their businesses won’t survive if travelers do not come to the area. Others have an economic interest in the status quo.
The situation continues to worsen in Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. To date the areas across from Big Bend have been the least affected because they are off the major transportation routes and, thus, the turf battles. Unfortunately, the problems are spreading, though. The threat comes not just from drug trafficking, but the fact that these criminals are diversifying into kidnapping, extortion and highway robbery, and younger wannabe thugs are seeing the advantages of force and violence to force innocent civilians to give them money and property.
Boquillas was a significant crossing point in the past, but it was firmly controlled by one drug lieutenant. He kept the peace and kept rivals out. He was supposedly associated with the Juarez cartel. Now that the crossing may reopen without any CBP officers it is likely to become a much more active area.
At a time when the entire police force of Veracruz was dismissed, is it wise for Washington to continue to delude itself that there is no problem?
Joan Neuhaus Schaan is the fellow in homeland security and terrorism at the Baker Institute, coordinator of the Texas Security Forum, and serves on the advisory board of the Transborder International Police Association. She has served as the executive director of the Houston-Harris County Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council and on the board of Crime Stoppers of Houston, Inc.