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Review Essay: The Border and Mexico's Drug Wars

Border Junkies: Addiction and Survival on the Streets of Juarez and El Paso, by Scott Comar (2011, University of Texas Press, 214 pp., $24.95 PB)

Border Wars, by Tom Barry (2011, MIT Press, 171 pp., $14.95 HB)

Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico, by Beto O'Rourke and Susie Byrd (2011, Cinco Puntos Press, 119 pp., $12.95 PB)

El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, edited by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden (2011, Nation Books, 209 pp., $15.99 PB)

In addition to an ever-increasing death toll, now more than 50,000 since President Calderon sent in the army in December 2006, Mexico's drug wars are generating an increasing level of concern and interest in the US, including a burgeoning literature. Next week, we'll review a trio of new works that seek to describe the emergence and significance of the so-called cartels, but this week, we look at a quartet of books that focus on the drug wars (and the drug scene) along the border.

If there's anywhere in America more attuned to the Mexican drug wars -- by which I mean the prohibition-related violence among competing drug trafficking organizations, between them and Mexican law enforcement and the military, and, sometimes, even between different factions of the Mexican security apparatus -- it's El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from one of the epicenters of the drug trade and the violence, Ciudad Juarez.

That's reflected in these titles. One is written by a pair of El Paso politicians, two more are largely set in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez bi-national metroplex, and the last covers the US border region of which El Paso is front and center. The view from El Paso, staring across the river at the killing and mayhem, can be frightening, but also enlightening.

In Dealing Death and Drugs, El Paso city council members Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke (he of the famous city council resolution calling for a discussion of legalization and now running for Congress) bring a home-town perspective on the drug wars, provide some lessons on the economics of the illicit marijuana business and present a concise, yet cogent, argument for legalizing weed as a means of weakening the cartels and reducing the violence.

Marijuana is critical for the cartels, Byrd and O'Rourke argue, because unlike cocaine, which must be purchased from producers elsewhere or methamphetamine, which requires imported precursor chemicals, the cartels control it from farm to market, generating profits each step of the way. They take you from the pot fields of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where a pound costs $23 to Juarez, where it goes for $73 a pound. Getting it past the border and into El Paso drives the price up to $240, and getting it past the Border Protection Service checkpoints a few miles into Texas gets it to its final US wholesale price of about $550 a pound.

US and Mexican law enforcement seized or eradicated 22 metric tons of Mexican weed in 2008, Byrd and O'Rourke note. That's as much as 90% of high end estimates of all the pot smoked in the US, which means either those estimates are way low or that the business is way profitable. And throwing billions of dollars at the problem through law enforcement hasn't helped.

Legalizing, regulating, and taxing the marijuana market is "the least bad" solution, Boyd and O'Rourke write. Their argument, like the book itself, is pithy, yet compelling, and, as Boyd notes in an afterword, even Calderon is starting to come around. But not yet most policymakers in the US.

With El Sicario, we take a deep, dark turn toward the underbelly of the Mexican drug wars. Border sage and drug war critic Charles Bowden and translator and Juarez body count keeper Molly Molloy bring the terrifying realities of the business into chilling focus through their interviews with a former cartel hitman now in hiding with a contract on his head. This may be the single scariest book I've read about the Mexican drug wars, not for its calm and collected accounts of horrifying acts of brutality, which can be truly stomach-turning, but for the picture it paints of absolutely corrupted and complicit law enforcement, including the military.

Can you imagine if you don't know whether that cop who just stopped you is going to write you a ticket or shoot you dead without warning, or kidnap and torture you because he's actually working for the cartels? That's the case in Mexico now. Our interlocutor in El Sicario attended the Chihuahua state police academy, rose to the rank of comandante, and underwent training by the FBI, all while carrying out killings, kidnappings, and tortures for the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels. Even more perversely, while he was running the anti-kidnapping squad for the state police, he was using police vehicles to kidnap people and transport drugs.

And he is by no means alone. According to the hit man, about a quarter of his graduating class at the police academy were on the cartel payroll -- from the very beginning of their law enforcement careers! The Mexican police are heavily salted with cartel men; it's a long-term business strategy that has paid handsomely for the cartels, but has absolutely shredded any trust the public has in state and local law enforcement there.

But it's not just rotten on the Mexican side of the border. The hit man details how he and his colleagues transported tens of millions of dollars worth of drugs across the border and how he personally paid a US Customs officer $50,000 to let cars full of drugs get through. El Sicario shows that dirty knows no borders, even if the cartels are smart enough to keep the blood-letting almost entirely south of the border.

But there are other ways US law enforcement is benefiting from the Mexican drug wars. In Border Wars, journalist and Center for International Policy analyst Tom Barry uses a series of interlocking essays to argue that since the September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, the US has spent billions of dollars "securing the border" against a triple threat of illegal immigration, drugs, and terror, and has accomplished little good, quite a bit of bad, and plenty of stupid.

Barry opens with the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, who died for lack of proper medical treatment in 2008 in a privately operated, publicly owned federal immigration prison in remote Pecos, Texas. He recalls that until 2006, we typically handled illegal immigration administratively, often simply deporting Mexicans back across the Rio Grande. But since then, the Bush administration began treating illegal immigration as a criminal matter, and now some 20,000 people languish in those distant prisons. Barry paints chilling, Kafkasque scenes of assembly-line "justice" where judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, all in the pay of the Us government, process dozens of shackled would-be immigrant laborers into the ever-expanding federal immigration detention system.

There is money to be made there, sucking off the federal teat, although more of it appears to go to lawyers, consultants, dealmakers and lobbyists than to the desperate rural towns hoping a private prison will provide them with a semblance of an economy. There's even more money to be made by border sheriffs and border state law enforcement entities in the seemingly endless billions of Department of Homeland Security dollars to fight drugs and terror.

Barry takes us to Texas and Arizona border counties where the numbers show little violent crime, but the sheriffs and politicians cry to high heaven about "spill over violence," Korans found on the border, and the threat of narco-Hezbollah conspiracies, for which there is no evidence. Some of these counties are among the poorest in the nation, lacking social and public services, yet in one of them, the sheriff's department is so awash in federal grant money that each deputy has two official vehicles, one patrol car and one SUV.

Along the way, he exposes the ugliness of border security politics and some of it practitioners, such as Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Jan Brewer of Arizona, who use a politics of fear and hate to firm up support among their most reactionary supporters, who hype nonexistent violence on this side of the border, and who constantly tout their border security efforts "without help from Washington" even as they take in billions from Washington to pay for their loudly-touted initiatives. It's rank cynicism, opportunism, and hypocrisy at its worst, and Barry nails it.

For Barry, the central problem is our inability to enact comprehensive immigration reform, a goal always pushed further into the future as we "secure the border" first. And, he says, we have to separate national security from public safety. The gargantuan Department of Homeland Security should worry about terrorists; a separate Customs and Border Protection Service should deal with illegal immigration and drugs.

"The standard of success for our border policy shouldn’t be how completely sealed and secured our border is," he writes, "but rather how well it is regulated. New regulatory frameworks for immigration and drug consumption are fundamental prerequisites for a more cost-effective border policy." And a more sane and human one. 

Finally, with Border Junkies, University of Texas-El Paso borderlands historian Scott Comar takes us back to "the good old days" in Juarez, a decade ago, before the city earned its blood-drenched reputation. In an eye-opening work of auto-ethnography, Comar tells mainly his own story of his descent into abject addiction, in which he moved with appalling speed from owning his own moving truck to panhandling on the streets to feed his habit.

In telling his own story, though, Comar unveils a never-before-written-about world, that of the street junkies of Juarez. His account, based largely on his journal entries, details the day-to-day struggle of the border junkies, the strategies they adopt to survive and score -- and not necessarily in that order -- the kinship and friendship networks that envelop them, the heroin distribution systems that feed their insatiable appetites. For those with a taste for anthropological examinations of the junkie life, this is fascinating stuff, right up there with the work of Philippe Bourgois.

Border Junkies is notable in one other respect: I don't think there is one mention of the cartels in it. Comar recounts constant harassment by the Juarez police (and the El Paso police, too) and petty corruption, he mentions that some of his fellows belonged to gangs, though only passingly, but the existence of the cartels, the source of their dope, is so distant from their daily lives that it is as if they don't exist.

Of course, that was before the death toll in Juarez started climbing to thousands every year. Now those street gangs that in Comar's time seemed to be engaged mainly in minor thuggery, a little smuggling, and posing with pistols have, in the pressure cooker of the Mexican drug wars, morphed into true killing machines like Barrio Azteca, the Artist Assasins, and La Linea. Those guys who quietly peddled smack on the corners or out of their houses in Comar's day died by the hundreds when the violence swept through just a few years later.

Wretched as the border junkie's existence is, it is doable. Comar did it for three years, commuting over the river to panhandle in El Paso, then back across to cop and nod. It was a gritty, miserable existence, but Comar makes it seem almost routine, banal. And, along the way, he has some interesting things to say about addiction and recovery, too.

Perhaps it's fitting to end with the image of the junkie straddling the border, because the root causes of Mexico's drug wars certainly do. Whether it's America's never-ending appetite for Mexican weed, the cartels' addiction to money and power, their alcohol and cocaine-numbed killers, or border state and federal law enforcement's addiction to immigration/drugs/terror funding booty, it's all entangled there on the line.

Mexico may be another country and, thankfully, the violence, at least, remains on that side so far, but we are all in this together. Legalizing marijuana or even ending drug prohibition in the US won't make the cartels magically disappear, but failing to do so will only ensure that they grow ever more entrenched, while continuing to provide sustenance to malign political forces and authoritarian, if not downright Orwellian, policing tendencies here.

High-Ranking RI Lawmaker Faces Drug Charge

Location: 
RI
United States
State Rep. Robert Watson (R-East Greenwich), the House Minority Leader, who criticized the Legislature by invoking the image of pot-smoking immigrants is facing drug charges in Connecticut.
Publication/Source: 
The Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hQZTY6cZDqZGZoIuK0j-liVXqnNw?docId=752ae20652cb4175b982874a8adfb094

230,000 Displaced by Mexico Drug Prohibition War, Half May Have Come to the United States

Location: 
Mexico
A new study by the Swiss-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center that at least 230,000 people have been displaced in Mexico because of drug prohibition violence and that about half of them may have taken refuge in the United States.
Publication/Source: 
Fox News (US)
URL: 
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/25/report-230000-displaced-mexico-drug-war-1121351146/

Agent Fired for Legalization Views Sues Border Patrol

The US Border Patrol is being sued by a former agent who was fired in 2009 after expressing opinions in support of drug legalization and of sympathy for illegal immigrants to a coworker. In a lawsuit filed in US district court for the Western District of Texas in El Paso last week, former agent Bryan Gonzalez, 26, alleges he was fired for exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech.

Bryan Gonzalez (r) graduates from the Border Patrol Academy (Image courtesy Bryan Gonzalez via ACLU-NM)
Gonzalez was fired just before finishing his two-year probationary period with Customs and Border Protection's El Paso sector. That sector includes New Mexico and West Texas, and the ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) has taken up Gonzalez' case.

"Firing a public servant because of their political opinions is an egregious violation of the First Amendment," the ACLU-NM said in a press release. "We cannot require nor should we expect uniformity of thought within our law enforcement institutions. Purging the ranks of government employees who fail 'ideological purity' tests is about as un-American as it gets."

According to the ACLU-NM, things went south for Gonzalez after a conversation with a coworker: "Gonzalez pulled his vehicle up next to a fellow CBP agent who was in the same vicinity," the group said. "In the course of a casual discussion concerning the drug-related violence in Mexico, Gonzales remarked that he believed that legalization of drugs would be the most effective way to end the violence. He also related to the other agent that, as a former dual US-Mexican citizen, he understood the economic factors that drive migrants to cross the border without documentation to seek work," the group explained.

"Word of Gonzalez’s opinions on these matters quickly spread to his supervisor, who informed the Joint Intake Command in Washington, DC. Internal Affairs launched an investigation soon after, and the Border Patrol terminated Gonzalez in October 2009," the ACLU-NM noted.

In his termination letter, the agency wrote that Gonzalez held "personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps."

"I was terminated not because my service was inadequate, but because I hold certain opinions that are shared by millions of my fellow Americans," said Gonzalez. "I am no less patriotic or dedicated to excellence in my work because I respectfully disagree with some of our current border enforcement policies. It was wrong for the US Border Patrol to retaliate against me for exercising my free speech rights guaranteed by the very Constitution I swore to uphold."

Gonzalez is gaining support from at least one law enforcement group. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). LEAP issued a statement Tuesday saying it stood by Gonzalez.

"There's no doubt that the so-called 'war on drugs' is a gigantic failure and that it causes violence, hurts our economy and forces dedicated law enforcers to risk their lives in the line of fire for a lost cause," said Terry Nelson, a former US Border Patrol agent who is now a board member for LEAP. "But whether you think we should legalize drugs or not, you have to support the right of brave law enforcers like Bryan Gonzalez to exercise the First Amendment and share their views on policies that impact them on a daily basis."

Gonzalez and the ACLU-NM are asking the court to find that the Border Patrol violated his First Amendment free speech rights and are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

El Paso , TX
United States

Mexico Massacre: How the Drug War is Pushing Cartels Into Human Trafficking

Location: 
Mexico
Drug traffickers are increasingly diversifying their illicit activities and targeting more than just rival criminal gangs.
Publication/Source: 
The Christian Science Monitor (MA)
URL: 
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/0830/Mexico-massacre-How-the-drug-war-is-pushing-cartels-into-human-trafficking

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported this month. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

municipal building, San Fernando, Tamaulipas
Thursday, August 19

In Ciudad Juarez, 12 people were killed in various parts of the city. In one case, a man on a bus was killed after being shot by another passenger, who was apparently following him and waiting for an opportune moment to strike. In another incident, a group of armed men stormed a house, killing one man and leaving a woman and a child wounded.

Friday, August 20

In Monterrey, two private security guards were killed after a shootout in front of the prestigious American School Foundation, known for educating the children of many wealthy locals and those of American expatriates. The gun battle apparently began after the guards had a verbal altercation with a group of armed men who were driving near the school. Four guards who disappeared under unclear circumstances during the gunfight turned up safely on Friday. It is unclear whether the men fled or were kidnapped by the gunmen, as has been reported in the Mexican media.

Saturday, August 21

In El Paso, a bullet fired during a gunfight in Ciudad Juarez struck a building belonging to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). At least eight rounds fired in Ciudad Juarez have struck buildings in El Paso in recent weeks.

Sunday, August 22

In Cuernavaca, four bodies were discovered hanging from a bridge. The bodies had been decapitated and mutilated, and their genitals had been removed. A note left at the scene indicated that the men were affiliated with American-born cartel figure Edgar Valdez Villareal, who is currently in a power struggle with Hector Beltran-Leyva for control of the Beltran-Leyva Organization. Cuernavaca has seen a dramatic surge in violence since cartel boss Arturo Beltran-Leyva was killed in December, leaving his organization leaderless.

Monday, August 23

In Hidalgo, seven bodies were discovered inside two mines that were being used as clandestine graves by suspected drug cartels. Authorities were led to the mine by several suspects arrested last week, including three police officers. In May, a similar discovery in Taxco led to the discovery of 55 bodies.

In Ciudad Juarez, five people were killed in several incidents in the city. Among the dead was a federal police officer who had been decapitated, dismembered, and whose body parts were left strewn along a highway. In another incident, a municipal policewoman was shot dead off-duty as she drove in a car with her child, who was left uninjured.

Tuesday, August 24

In Tamaulipas, 72 bodies were discovered at a farm after a gun battle in San Fernando, about 100 miles from Brownsville, Texas. The bodies were discovered by Marines acting on a tip from a man who claimed he was an illegal migrant who had been kidnapped. Initial reports suggest that the dead are mainly Central American immigrants who were killed after refusing to pay an extortion fee. Drug cartels, particularly the Zetas Organization which is powerful in Tamaulipas, have increasingly begun kidnapping migrants in addition to narcotics smuggling.

Near Acapulco, two bodies were discovered hanging from an overpass bridge on the highway from Chilpancingo. Their arms had been chopped off and a note was left with the bodies threatening extortionists, kidnappers, and the army.

In Mexico City, investigators from the UN and the OAS said that Mexico was the most dangerous place for journalists in the Americas. Some 60 journalists have been killed in the country since 2,000, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

Wednesday, August 25

In Sinaloa, three young men were found dead inside a car near the town of Las Palmas. All three had been reported missing on Sunday. At least one of the bodies, found in the trunk of the car, had signs of torture. All three had been shot.

Total Body Count for the Week: 301

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,331

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

San Fernando, TAM
Mexico

Drug Offenses 1/3 of US Criminal Deportations, DHS Says

Update: When published, this article incorrectly reported that aliens in the US face deportation for even a single marijuana possession misdemeanor. No, it takes two misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses to do that. We have modified the article accordingly. 

The United States last year deported more than 128,000 foreigners for committing crimes in the US, with people convicted of drug offenses making up nearly one-third of the total, according to a Department of Homeland Security report released last week. Some 37,000 foreign nationals were deported for drug offenses in fiscal year 2009, the report found, or 29.6% of all those deported under the criminal alien removal program.

Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) photo
Under US immigration laws non-citizens can be deported for any drug offense, except the simple possession of marijuana--although a second pot possession offense qualifies as deportable. The report supplies no breakdown of how many people were deported for which drug offenses.

The number of people deported for drug offenses was nearly double the second and third place offense categories. More than 20,000 people were deported for traffic violations and more than 19,000 were deported for immigration offenses.

Persons convicted of what are commonly considered serious crimes (assault, larceny, burglary, robbery, fraud, sexual assault) made up only 20.7% of those deported. "Family offenses" accounted for another 2%, while the category "other" included 16.5%.

Overall deportations are down from last year, with 290,000 people being removed by July 22, the agency reported. At the same time last year, 322,000 had been deported. But the percentage of people deported for committing crimes is up to nearly 50% this year, compared to 30% for the same period last year.

The Obama administration's push against criminal immigrants has been criticized both by advocates of tougher immigration policies, who applaud the crackdown on criminals but want to see it extended to non-criminal aliens, and by immigration rights activists for deporting more people than the Bush administration and deporting people, including some who have spent their entire lives here, for minor criminal offenses.

Washington, DC
United States

Congress Approves $600 Million for More Cops, Drones on Mexico Border [UPDATED]

(This is an updated version, posted August 11, of an article originally published on August 7.)

Acting to fulfill a June request from President Obama, the Senate last Thursday approved spending $600 million to increase the law enforcement presence on the US-Mexico border. The House earlier approved a $701 million version of the bill, and Tuesday moved on a voice vote to accept the Senate version.

military drone planes
The Obama request was largely a response to the meltdown over immigration in Arizona and calls to "secure the border" from Republicans. It also reflected heightening concern about the prohibition-related violence bloodying the Mexican side of the border. Last year, Obama had vowed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but at this point, all that's left is more money for law enforcement.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) provides funds for purchasing more unmanned drone surveillance aircraft ($32 million), 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to form a rapid-deployment unit ($129 milllion), as well as another 250 agents each for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE ($50 million) and Border Protection ($29 million).

Then there's $10 million for investigators to stop corruption in the Border Patrol and ICE, $14 million for communications equipment for new officers, $6 million for forward operating bases near the border, $30 for border interdiction, $8 million for a federal law enforcement training center, $10 million for federal judiciary resources for increased caseloads, $196 million for the Department of Justice, $13 million for border area US Attorneys, $8 million for more US Marshals along the border, and $7 million for border processing of apprehended drug and human traffickers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms gets $37 million in the border beef-up, the DEA gets $34 million, and the FBI gets $24 million. And then there's another $21 million for "interagency crime and drug law enforcement along the border," another $20 million for a federal prison system for immigration criminals, and, finally, $2.1 million to "expedite" the deportation of aliens along the border.

The Senate bill pays for the spending by imposing a new tax on companies that hire foreign workers. Companies affected would be those that hire more than 50 H1B or L visa foreign workers.

"What a relief that the Senate is still capable of passing measures that are really needed without playing political games," McCaskill said Thursday after the vote. "America must do a better job of securing our borders. This bill will help in a big way."

"This bipartisan effort shows we are serious about making the border more secure than ever. Now our attention must turn to comprehensive reform, which is the only way to fully address the problem of illegal immigration," said Schumer, the chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee.

And so the show goes on, just as the flows of drugs and immigrants go on.

Washington, DC
United States

The Border: Obama Seeks $600 Million in Emergency Funds for Heightened Security

The Obama administration asked Congress Tuesday to allocate $600 million in emergency funds to enhance security on the US-Mexico border. The move comes as the administration is under boisterous attack by "secure the border" advocates who seek to shunt aside comprehensive immigration reform in favor of merely walling us off from our neighbors.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/reynosa-hidalgo.jpg
Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
The funding would finance the hiring of another 1,000 Border Patrol agents, another 160 Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, extra Border Patrol canine teams, and the purchase of two unmanned drones to overfly the border. It would also provide funding for extra FBI task forces, DEA agents, prosecutors, and immigration judges.

The federal law enforcement presence on the border is already at record levels. The Border Patrol has doubled in size since 2004 and now fields some 20,000 agents. The emergency funding request would allow for another 5% increase in their numbers.

President Obama said the budget request "responds to urgent and essential needs" in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) asking that the request be considered an emergency. "These amendments would support efforts to secure the Southwest border and enhance federal border protection, law enforcement and counter-narcotics activities," Obama wrote.

Last month, the administration announced it was sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and that he would seek $500 million in emergency funding. This week's funding request covers that and adds an additional $100 million taken from other Homeland Security programs.

The Border: Obama to Send 1,200 National Guard Troops in Bid to Fight Drugs

The Obama administration said Tuesday it would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border and spend more law enforcement money there to combat drug smuggling. The troops will not be used on the front-line, but will provide support services to the already beefed-up border law enforcement apparatus.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/esequielhernandez.jpg
Esequiel Hernandez was killed by US Marines near the Texas border, while herding sheep. Are there more such victims to come?
The announcement came as the administration came under increasing pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to "do something" about border security and reflects concerns about the politics of immigration as well as the war on drugs.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) last week called on Obama to send National Guard helicopters from neighboring states to Arizona. She didn't get the choppers, but she did get some attention, and now she will get some National Guardsman.

Although Brewer and other conservatives -- and some liberals -- are screaming to high heaven about the need for more border enforcement, the need for it isn't absolutely clear. In Arizona, the crime rate is down, there are signs that immigrants are leaving, and despite wildly exaggerated claims, Mexican drug cartels are generally very good at keeping their spectacular violence on the other side of the border.

The Obama National Guard deployment is a faint echo of President Bush the Junior's two-year deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the border beginning in 2006. Those troops were credited with helping in the arrest of more than 160,000 undocumented immigrants, the seizure of $69,000 in cash, and 305,000 pounds of drugs.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, fending off a challenge from a rightist congressman, said that 1,200 troops wasn't enough. In a Senate maneuver, he tried to get funding for 6,000 troops Thursday, but was rebuffed.

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