Tougher War Against Drug Smuggling Urged

Times Staff Writer

Alarmed by evidence of increased drug trafficking along the border, members of a congressional committee said Wednesday in San Diego that stronger measures will be needed to stem the increasing flow of illicit drugs from Mexico.

"We are indeed losing this battle" against narcotics trafficking, said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control.

Rangel and other committee members examined customs and immigration service facilities in San Ysidro on Wednesday as part of an eight-day "study mission" to U.S. border communities and various Mexican cities. Today the panel is scheduled to hold a daylong hearing in San Diego before leaving Friday for Mexico City and meetings with Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid and Atty. Gen. Sergio Garcia Ramirez.

Information gathered during the trip may be used to recommend legislation and bolster funding requests for drug-interdiction efforts along the border, the congressmen said. They have said they support various steps, including additional U.S. assistance for the eradication of marijuana fields in Mexico and other nations, and the use of sophisticated military aircraft to assist in finding smugglers.

The congressional concern is prompted by evidence that Mexico is an increasingly important source for illicit drugs destined for the United States. The nations share a 1,900-mile border, where isolated stretches provide ideal cover for smugglers bringing in narcotics overland or by aircraft.

Currently, Mexico accounts for about a third of the heroin and 15% of the marijuana imported into the United States, according to congressional estimates. In addition, federal officials now estimate that as much as a third of the cocaine consumed in the United States may be smuggled in through Mexico, although all the cocaine originates in South America.

Federal officials say the additional Mexican drug trade is linked to an ongoing U.S. crackdown against traffickers operating in south Florida and the Caribbean, which has long been a conduit for illicit drugs, particularly cocaine. The pressure has forced traffickers to move west, official maintain.

"We put so much pressure on the Caribbean, I think we've dispersed some of that traffic," said U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), who is a member of the congressional committee.

On Wednesday, the committee canceled planned sessions with Mexican officials in Tijuana, saying they preferred to press their case with Mexican leaders in Mexico City. Earlier this week, the congressmen met with officials from the border states of Texas and Arizona.

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