Follow That Story: Feds' Drug War Gets 90-Day Reprieve from Texas Border DAs, Dueling For Dollars to Continue 7/7/00

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A month ago, DRCNet reported on threats by district attorneys in Texas border counties to quit prosecuting drug cases referred to them by federal prosecutors ( Now, however, Congress has bought another three months of local cooperation with a $12 million emergency appropriation announced last week.

That appropriation will provide assistance to border prosecutors all along the frontier, with only some $3 million going to the squeaky wheel Texas DAs.

The $12 million will reimburse border counties for the costs they incur in prosecuting drug cases generated by the DEA, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Border Patrol.

But the $12 million won't make much difference, according to academic and local border-watchers. George Kourous, director of the Interhemispheric Resource Center's Border Information & Outreach Service (BIOS --, told DRCNet the funding was "a band-aid approach."

"I don't know what amount of money would be enough," he said. "This whole strict law enforcement approach is a black hole. Interdiction clearly has not affected price or availability; we need to be looking instead at a demand-reduction approach."

Jose Palafox, a doctoral student at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied and written extensively about the militarization of the border, agrees, but also ties the border problems to the broader question of US-Mexican bilateral relations.

"The whole war on drugs paradigm does not address the root causes of the drug economy," he told DRCNet, "on either the demand or the supply sides."

"If you were to stop the drug economy you would do real damage to Mexico's stability," said Palafox. "The cartels are so deeply embedded in the national economy that they cannot be destroyed without substantial damage to the economy as a whole." And, added Palafox, "a 'success' in the drug war would effectively dispossess hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants who have no alternative, no effective substitute," he added. "The way the US prosecutes this war is very much related to the future we have in mind for people down there."

Palafox also commented that the increase in cross-border commerce since NAFTA together with the US law enforcement build-up on the border has created what border scholar Peter Andreas has termed "a borderless economy but a barricaded border." The more free trade you encourage, the more illicit traffic comes with it, he said.

For Jack MacNamara, longtime resident of remote Alpine, Texas and publisher of the Nimby News (, the view from ground zero is a little bit different.

The dance of the DAs is "a piece of Kabuki theater," he said. "You've got one group of crime fighters going on strike until they get a pay raise," he added. "Listen, $12 million looks good, but these federal drug task forces running around here inhale $12 million every other day."

"You've got paramilitarization, not militarization on the border," said MacNamara. "You've got a bunch of roving bands, sometimes they're drug dealers, sometimes they're cops, but they've all got guns and they're all in it for the same thing: money, power, and prestige."

Warming to his subject, MacNamara continued, "This has been a great shell game ever since 1986. There's been an endless array of prosecutorial and enforcement initiatives, and now we're part of HIDTA [the DEA's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program], so the money moves around."

"Since 1986, without any central plan or idea, we've increased jails, prosecutors, this and that. All the way through 1991, federal prosecutions in this area were done by one Assistant US Attorney out of Midland; now we have four or five living here in Alpine. The feds have escalated things incredibly: The five counties in this area barely have 20,000 people, but we have all these US Attorneys, a full-time federal public defender and a full-time US Magistrate. The local federal detention facility in Pecos has just doubled its capacity to 2,000 prisoners," he added.

All of this, said MacNamara, is no more than "running the sausage machine to send 'em on to fill the jails."

The Texas dust-up is only the latest indication that the border law enforcement boom is putting severe strains on the entire system. The New York Times reported that the five federal judicial districts along the border are swamped with cases. They handle 26% of all federal criminal cases now (almost all of them related to drugs or immigration); the remaining 89 federal judicial districts account for 74% of the cases.

The Times reported on the efforts of legislators to find a way out, with most of those efforts involving more judges, more money, more jails.

"You know," said MacNamara, "We sit out here and wait for the New York Times to define reality for us. But guess what? It ain't necessarily the same reality."

-- END --
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Issue #144, 7/7/00 Follow That Story: Feds' Drug War Gets 90-Day Reprieve from Texas Border DAs, Dueling For Dollars to Continue | New Mexico's Governor Johnson Speaks Out on Drug Policy in Houston, Sets Up Drug Policy Review Commission at Home, Addressing Shadow Conventions Next Month | St. Paul Cops Pose as Census Takers | Interview with Libertarian Presidential Nominee Harry Browne | Errata: Ralph Nader and Industrial Hemp | Scottish Parliament Members Call for Dutch-Style Coffeehouses as Legalization Debate Heats Up | Nevada Legislature to Consider Marijuana Reform Bill in 2001, Judicial Commission to Call for Similar Changes | Media Scan: 20/20, Christian Science Monitor, | AlertS: Free Speech, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Washington State | HEA Campaign | Event Calendar | Job Opportunity in Britain | Editorial: Over the Limit
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