Border Mayors Say Mexico Unrest Fears Overblown
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Turn on any newscast, log on to a news Web site, pick up a paper this week, and you're bound to hear or read about the drug violence ravaging parts of Mexico.
This week, the Obama administration announced more money and manpower to help Mexico fight the drug cartels and to keep the drug wars from spilling into America's border cities. But America's border mayors, from San Diego to Brownsville, say the attention to drug violence is bordering on hysteria.
As NPR's John Burnett reports, they have a message for the media and for a fretful U.S. public.
JOHN BURNETT: I sat down in a cafe in Eagle Pass, Texas across from Mayor Chad Foster. The lifelong border resident with a thick moustache lit a Marlboro Light, took a sip of black coffee and stared hard at me.
Mayor CHAD FOSTER (Eagle Pass, Texas): I absolutely know for a fact that your profession is to blame. I took occasion to watch three national media sources a week before last and saw such a garbage - unrealistic spin put on the reality that we live every day. I do not think it's fair to the border communities or the country of Mexico.
BURNETT: Furthermore, Foster says, Eagle Pass is safe, his sister city of Piedras Negras across the Rio Grande is safe, but he thinks the shrill tone of border coverage has gotten out of hand.
(Soundbite of TV program)
Unidentified Man #1: What about flooding the area with huge numbers of National Guard troops?
Representative MICHAEL MCCAUL (Republican, Texas): I think that's good. I think…
BURNETT: That's Fox News interviewing Texas Republican Congressman Michael McCaul.
Here's CNN interviewing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
(Soundbite of television program)
Ms. KYRA PHILLIPS (News Anchor, CNN): Sort of like what we saw in Iraq, you know, putting in troop surges into certain areas, and you saw a drop in violence. Would you ever consider doing something like that, getting the military involved and saying, okay, we can't take this anymore. We've got to do something drastic or it's not going to work?
Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): Well, obviously, the violence problem in Juarez…
BURNETT: There's no question that Mexican drug trafficking organizations have a presence in U.S. cities as varied as Phoenix, Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago. And disputes over turf and drug debts do lead to murders and kidnappings in this country, but the danger is not necessarily at the border.
Richard Cortez is the mayor of McAllen, Texas, a city of 130,000 less than 10 miles from the Mexican border. He was among a delegation of Texas border mayors that traveled to Austin this month to deliver a reality check to a House Committee on Border Affairs.
Mayor RICHARD CORTEZ (McAllen, Texas): My own daughter calls me from San Antonio and tells me, dad, I don't want you to run for reelection. I'm just afraid that you're going to be assassinated in office. And I said, well, sweetheart, well, why? She says, well, it's all over the media that the drug people are assassinating mayors and police officers and et cetera.
BURNETT: But nothing can top a recent dispatch from the London Daily Telegraph, which reported that law enforcement in San Diego and El Paso are, quote, "gearing up for street confrontations with Mexican drug gangs armed with rockets and grenades."
John Cook is mayor of El Paso, just across the bridge from Ciudad Juarez, Ground Zero for the worst Mexican narco-violence.
Mayor JOHN COOK (El Paso, Texas): Despite the fact that just within 15-minute walking distance of my office, in our sister city, they had almost 2,000 murders last year associated with the drug cartels, we had 18, and none of those were associated with the cartels. So I want people to know that we are a safe city.
BURNETT: Recently, Texas Governor Rick Perry called on the federal government to dispatch a thousand guardsmen to the Texas border to bolster security - a decision questioned by his border mayors.
Laredo mayor, Raul Salinas, an FBI agent for 27 years, was asked if he believes soldiers at the river are necessary.
Mayor RAUL SALINAS (Laredo, Texas): I don't think so, not at this time. You know, they've been there before. They did their job. They have left. They did a magnificent job, and everything is calm right now.
BURNETT: What is needed, say border mayors, is what the president announced earlier this week, targeted enforcement at ports of entry, not to stop wild-West shootouts from spilling over into the United States but to check more vehicles going south.
Jerry Sanders was a police officer for 26 years before becoming mayor of San Diego.
Mayor JERRY SANDERS (San Diego, California): You know, I don't think that this is a time for hysteria. I think it's a time for people to get together and figure out how to best make safe decisions about it without overreacting. But I think it's also a time to think about how we can stop the flow of weapons into Mexico, how we can stop the flow of money into Mexico, so they have a decent shot at stopping the violence.
BURNETT: On Tuesday, Joseph Arabit, the senior DEA agent in El Paso, testified before Congress to say that isolated instances of trafficker-on-trafficker violence in the United States do not constitute spillover violence.
While frightening, he continued, they do not represent a dramatic departure from the violence that has always been associated with the drug trade.
John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
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