The Reagan Administration, seeking to stem the massive flow of drugs across the Mexican border, Wednesday announced the formation of a multi-agency task force to beef up enforcement along the four-state, 1,900-mile frontier.
But, in making the announcement, Treasury Undersecretary Francis Keating said that no new money would be appropriated immediately for the crackdown, which gave rise to new congressional criticism that the Administration’s anti-drug efforts were more show than substance.
Keating, the undersecretary for law enforcement, laid out plans for the new task force after a morning meeting with more than 50 federal, state and local law enforcement representatives from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. He said the task force will coordinate the activities of the participating state agencies.
Keating said also that he hoped to work closely with the Mexican government, despite a recent statement by Customs Commissioner William von Raab that Mexican authorities were involved in massive corruption linked to drug traffic.
He said the remark by Von Raab that created tensions between the two nations “is a thing of the past.”
“We have excellent cooperation from the Mexican attorney general,” he said. “The State Department is working on arrangements by which U.S.-Mexico cooperation can be increased.”
Keating estimated that a third of all heroin, cocaine and marijuana consumed in the United States flows across the Mexican border.
“They may be the retail liquor store in this enterprise,” he said of Mexico, “but we are the drunks.”
He said that the border task force will be headed by the U.S. Customs Service and that several hundred additional customs agents will be assigned to it but no more federal funds will be available initially. The task force is a “semi-permanent commitment to a long-term problem,” he said.
Use of Military Urged
However, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) said last week that he did not expect the task force to work. And, on Wednesday, Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.), another House drug expert, said that, without the use of military forces and sophisticated aerial radar detection systems, the border war would be lost.
The highly touted South Florida drug task force was somewhat successful in using military equipment and personnel, English said. Keating would not comment Wednesday on the extent to which the military might be involved in the task force operation.
“It’s a sham and has been for some time,” English said. “It’s all show and no go, and that’s what it comes down to.”
He pointed to the fact that, although it plans to use more customs agents on the border, the Administration has favored reducing the Customs Service by 2,000 people and the Coast Guard by 1,000.
Called “Press Event”
“It sounds like another one of those press events that the Reagan Administration has from time to time,” English said.
Keating said that the border task force would not be like the one in South Florida, except “in the sense that there are going to be a lot of people working together.”
“We are very serious about making this an organized effort on all parts,” he said. “It’s going to be a long process.”