In a politically sensitive operation at the Arizona- Mexico border, U.S. Border Patrol agents and Mexican federal police officers are training together, sharing intelligence and coordinating patrols for the first time.
The goal of the historic partnership: a systematic joint attack on northbound flows of drugs and migrants, and southbound shipments of guns and cash. It is part of a major, unannounced crackdown started in recent months involving hundreds of U.S. and Mexican officers in the border’s busiest smuggling corridor.
The initiative appears likely to expand. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna will sign a declaration Thursday in Mexico City agreeing to replicate the experiment. Eventually, officials say, joint operations borderwide could lead to the creation of a Mexican force serving as a counterpart to the Border Patrol–an agency once regarded with nationalistic aversion in Mexico.
But the unprecedented effort faces imposing obstacles: violent drug cartels, long-standing Mexican reluctance to interfere with illegal immigration into the United States and a legacy of corruption that has scuttled past enforcement efforts.
“There’s so much potential for corruption,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network, a migrant advocate group in Arizona. “It could be destined for failure. . . . Right now law enforcement in Mexico cannot compete with the trafficking networks. It can’t compete with the money, the power.”
Trevino watched a training session in which green-uniformed U.S. instructors shouted directions as nine Mexican officers in blue uniforms, goggles and helmets roared through mud and water on all-terrain vehicles that the Border Patrol uses to chase border-crossers.
Mexican officers, who undergo U.S. background checks, also train in close-quarters firearms techniques and medical rescue skills. The Border Patrol plans to vet and train several hundred Mexican federal officers who also will learn behavioral analysis and ways to detect contraband concealed in vehicles.
However, Trevino said that while his officers aggressively pursue smugglers, they do not intend to interfere with Mexicans crossing north illegally if there is no evidence of other criminal activity. The policy is dictated by longtime Mexican political sensitivity and public opinion, experts say.
Nonetheless, Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan praised the Arizona-Sonora model as part of an enforcement “sea change” resulting from government cooperation and the rising frequency of drug traffickers who also smuggle people.
Border Patrol officials say the Mexican anti-smuggling effort helps disrupt the flow of illegal migrants and is the most they can hope for at the present time. Smugglers have retaliated against the five-month U.S. crackdown, dubbed the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats.