Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Wednesday promised to add two dozen agents in the San Diego area to inspect Mexico-bound vehicles for weapons and drug profits, as part of the federal government's new anti-drug plan.
On her first visit to the Southwest border since announcing the anti-trafficking blueprint last week, Napolitano said the agents would help staff checkpoints that had been used sporadically for the last two years. They would look to intercept high-powered weaponry that is believed to be fueling much of the drug violence in Mexico.
Southbound checkpoints have turned up numerous weapons and millions of dollars, including the March 19 discovery at the Laredo, Texas, border crossing of $3 million hidden in a passenger bus.
"We're taking them on, and we're taking them out. That's our goal," said Napolitano during a news conference at the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego County, where a cache of recently seized AR-15 assault rifles was on display.
Some experts, however, doubt the strategy will have a significant effect, saying illegal drug trafficking into the United States has not been reduced despite the presence of hundreds of inspectors and new technology, such as X-ray machines to detect contraband.
They say the increased focus on southbound vehicles would snarl traffic at border crossings, where long wait times already cost the Tijuana-San Diego region more than $4 billion per year in lost sales, tourism and other economic output, according to the San Diego Assn. of Governments.
"The knee-jerk reaction of policy makers in Washington is often to see that border as a kind of valve that you can clamp shut and stop illicit flows," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. "But the reality is, you're causing the biggest costs to licit traffic flows across the border."
Napolitano said new technology, including license plate readers, would help speed up the inspection process.