U.S., Mexico launch unprecedented effort to disrupt cross-border weapons smuggling
11:37 PM CDT on Tuesday, June 10, 2008
By DAVID McLEMORE / The Dallas Morning News email@example.com / The Dallas Morning News Laurence Iliff contributed to this report from Mexico City.
HOUSTON -- Tons of heroin and cocaine move north across the Southwestern border. And millions of dollars and truckloads of weapons move south -- feeding the escalating levels of violence that have turned parts of Mexico into war zones and spread as far as North Texas.
At least 80 percent of all of the weapons used by drug traffickers in Mexico to kill one another as well as police and soldiers come from the U.S., Mexican officials say. They've repeatedly asked the U.S. government for more help in stopping the flow of weapons from Texas and other border states into Mexico.
On Monday, U.S. and Mexican customs investigation officials unveiled a cooperative effort called Armas Cruzadas to disrupt cross-border weapons smuggling through the sharing of databases and better monitoring of illicit sales at guns shops and guns shows.
And on Tuesday, the U.S. House authorized spending $1.6 billion over the next three years to help Mexico and other countries counter growing drug violence, including $74 million for the Justice Department to stem the flow of guns south. Funding, however, will have to come separately.
"With the caliber and style of weaponry used and the volume moving across the border into cartel hands, we can see the murderous intent of the cartels," said Julie Myers, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "It's time for the good guys to take control of the environment."
Dewey Webb, special agent-in-charge of the Houston office of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the new operation will help provide firmer data on how many weapons are being bought legally or otherwise and moved across the border.
"Right now, we know Texas is the No. 1 source of weapons smuggled into Mexico, with most of them coming from Houston and Dallas," Mr. Webb said. They're bought "by 'straw purchasers' who act as buyers for the cartels."
One of the ATF's biggest cases in Dallas involved a security guard whom agents documented buying 152 firearms, including 78 Romanian-made assault rifles, at a Mesquite gun store over four months in 2003.