U.S., Mexican Officials Meet On Border Security

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are in Mexico strategizing with officials there on how to fight the arms trade fueling Mexico's bloody drug war. Napolitano recently announced that her department will shift resources to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the increasing narco violence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Americans may be concerned about illegal drugs coming from Mexico to the United States, but Mexicans are concerned about a bit of trade the other way, a related bit of trade. Weapons in this country are going to Mexico, where they are used by drug cartels battling for control of turf. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are wrapping up a trip to Mexico this morning, where they've been discussing illegal weapons trafficking. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Mexico has extremely strict gun ownership laws, yet the nation's drug cartels have been amassing huge arsenals by buying up weapons in U.S. gun shops and then smuggling them south. During a raid on a stash house in Reynosa late last year, Mexican police seized almost 300 assault rifles, more than 100 pistols, a dozen submachine guns and a half a million rounds of ammunition.

A Mexican reporter asked Attorney General Holder about a Fox News report challenging the administration's statistic that 90 percent of the guns in Mexico's drug war come from the U.S. Holder responded.

Attorney General ERIC HOLDER (Department of Justice): It almost doesn't matter if it's 60 percent or 70 percent or 90 percent. The reality is that too many weapons are flowing from the United States into Mexico.

BEAUBIEN: The attorney general said the weapons, particularly the high powered assault rifles, are making it difficult for the Mexican police and military to confront the drug gangs.

Attorney General HOLDER: We will take responsibility for what is happening and do all that we can on our side of the border to stop that flow of guns.

BEAUBIEN: Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was here, saying that the U.S. needs to take responsibility for its, quote, "insatiable demand for narcotics." Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano on this trip said the U.S. will spend $400 million to upgrade and improve screening for weapons and other contraband at the border.

In Mexico, there's widespread indignation that AK-47s, M-16s and other military-style firearms can be purchased legally just across the Rio Grande. Napolitano was asked if the Obama administration would push for an assault weapons ban.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): We intend to go forward and believe we can go forward with the laws that we have. We're not going to wait for Congress to act or not act. But the sense of urgency is with us now, so we will go with we've got.

BEAUBIEN: Mexican officials said that in their meetings with Napolitano and Holder, the U.S. cabinet members pledged not only to try to stop weapons at the border, but also to help trace guns that are seized inside Mexico.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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