WASHINGTON— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., said U.S. efforts to stem the flow of drugs northward over the Mexican border and the flow of guns and money southward into Mexico will be strengthened by an amendment adopted by the Senate Wednesday that would significantly bolster law enforcement and investigations at the border.

The amendment, accepted by unanimous consent, would add $550 million for federal agents, investigators, and resources to fight the Mexican drug cartels which have brought a brutal level of violence to the border area over the past few years. Over 7,000 people have died in Mexico since the beginning of 2008 as a result of this violence.

Last week, the Obama Administration announced an initiative to redeploy more federal agents to the border. The Senators said the decision was a significant step, but they believe more needs to be done.

“The Mexican drug cartels are presenting an unprecedented security threat to the United States,” Lieberman said. “Federal law enforcement officers and investigators are doing the best they can but they are understaffed and under equipped to take on the threat to American and Mexican security that the cartels pose.”

Collins said: “The U.S. government has invested significant resources to prevent drugs from entering the United States. But, until recently, it has focused only limited resources on the supply of money and weapons going south to fuel the drug war. This amendment would provide critical resources to supplement those efforts already underway on our southwest border to combat drug, gun, and cash smuggling by the drug cartels in Mexico. It also would help ensure that state and local law enforcement have the support they need and are integrated into federal efforts to stop smuggling.”

The amendment includes $260 million for Customs and Border Protection to hire, train, equip, and deploy 1,600 officers and 400 canine teams to the border to significantly increase the number of exit inspections. It also includes:

• $130 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 350 full time investigators to work on firearm trafficking and money laundering investigations;
• $20 million for DHS to improve the tactical communications in the field for CBP and ICE;
• $20 million for CBP to modernize its database used to identify potential criminals at the ports of entry;
• $30 million for Operation Stonegarden to reimburse state and local law enforcement for their participation in border actions;
• $50 million to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency to hire an additional 150 investigators and 50 inspectors to investigate firearms trafficking at the Mexican border;
• $10 million to provide assistance and equipment to local law enforcement along the Southern border and in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to combat criminal narcotics activity;
• $20 million for the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center at DHS to better coordinate investigations between federal, state, and local law enforcement;
• $10 million for DHS’ Office of International Affairs and the Undersecretary for Management to oversee implementation of the Merida Initiative and to increase its staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

Additional sponsors of the amendment are Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Hutchison, R-Texas, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Mark Pryor, Mark Udall, D-Colo., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

On March 25, 2009, the Committee held a hearing on drug cartel violence in the border region and the Obama Administration’s plan to fight it. A follow-up hearing will be held April 20 in Phoenix, Ariz.