MARK KRIKORIAN: Please feel free to keep eating but I want to get the program started. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, co-sponsoring this afternoon’s event with Women in Homeland Security. CIS is a think tank that looks at all the different aspects of immigration and its impact on the United States: economics, demographics, fiscal matters, as well as security matters.
The video that we’re going to show – screen today for the first time is the third in a series on the border. And Janet Napolitano said that we have control of the border. And after watching these videos, if this is control, I’d like to know what anarchy is.
A lot of this hidden camera footage has been around for a while on the Internet, but I think it really hasn’t been kind of knitted into a narrative, into a product that people can look at because there’s a lot of raw hidden camera footage that you can find if you Google a little bit of people sneaking across the border.
What Janice Kephart, who is our own woman in homeland security at CIS –
KRISTINA TANASICHUK: Everyone needs one.
MR. KRIKORIAN: – has been able to do is put it into kind of a storyline – with music, no less. And I think that’s made it a more compelling product for a lot of people to – that really resonates with people. In fact, the part two, the second one in this series – this is the third one – has more than half a million hits on YouTube and we were pretty pleased by that, frankly.
I think the music is part of what did it. (Laughter.) This video, as well as the others, are online at cis.org, our website. And what I’m going to do now is hand it over to my co-sponsor, Kristina Tanasichuk, who runs Women in Homeland Security and will introduce the speakers who will give some comments after we run the video.
KRISTINA TANASICHUK: Thank you. Thank you very much. Of course, I would like to start by thanking the center and thanking Janice and Mark for hosting us at this lovely venue. I think you all know this is quite an upgrade from some of our lunches – (chuckles) – and we thank you very much for that. It’s great to see such a turnout.
Just by introduction, would you raise your hand if you’re an American? Would you raise your hand if you’re a first generation American? Oh, my. What about second generation? Okay.
I think you see that immigration has an impact and kind of touches every single one of us and while I am very much an American, my family came from Ukraine and my grandparents did not speak English, yet they came here and worked very hard to make a living and to contribute to our society.
So I think some of the work that Janice is doing is incredibly important to find the balance between all of the reinvigoration and the additions that people that come to this country and want to make a new life can add to our nation. And at the same time, as we’ll see today from this video, there’re some vulnerabilities and some issues that the border – that border policy certainly needs to address.
So I hope that this movie and this event, in general, led by an incredible cast up here, will allow you a chance to discuss this from two sides. One is, of course, the addition, but also some of the vulnerabilities that are posed when we don’t have the right policies in place.
We want to keep our humanity in border policy, but we certainly want to maintain our security. So thank you all for coming. I hope you engage and discuss vigorously because that’s really what the hallmark of Women in Homeland Security events are about.
I’d like to introduce our two distinguished leaders today. The first is Janice Kephart. I think you all know her. She’s a very active member of WHS and certainly very active in all things homeland security/border related. She is the director of National Security Policy Studies and a great friend to us. So I’ll turn the tables over to you.
And I also wanted to introduce our discussant, Julie Myers – I think she – Julie Myers Wood, actually – doesn’t need much of an introduction. She was assistant secretary of homeland security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So I don’t know many people more informed and schooled to lead this discussion, but we are truly honored to have her as a member of our organization and here to participate with us today.
MS. KEPHART: I think what I’ll do is I just want to say how privileged I am to be here and to be part of the center and be part of the Women in Homeland Security and sit up here with such incredibly talented, dedicated, committed people to these issues.
Kristina has started this organization of Women in Homeland Security. It has for me – brought me amongst women I have never had the opportunity to meet or be with before and share perspectives. And it means a whole lot to me. So Kristina, thank you for that.
Julie Myers Wood, who I have so much admiration for – I hope her service to our country is not over. I hope she has a chance, again, to – I know, she probably hates me saying that – but anybody who took the reins of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency that has struggled so long, and gave it direction, gave it vigor and really made something outstanding happen for the time she was there, I think she deserves our praise very much as an exemplary public servant. And I’m really humbled to be sitting here with her today.
And I want to thank Brian (sp), who’s back there doing the camera work because he and I have been working for two months since we released the last film on this film. It took tremendous amount of work. It was done at about 11:30 last night. So I hope you all enjoy it. And with that, I’m going – we’re going to screen it and then we’ll do our discussion. So I’m going to move back around here. I don’t know if Julie and Kristina might want to move around here too, so we can actually watch it.
MS. KEPHART: Well, before we get into it, I just want to take a slight divergence. My dear friend Barbara Moffatt is here today. And I want to talk just briefly about a foundation that I’m involved with. It’s actually how I met Kristina. It’s called the No Greater Sacrifice Foundation. They provide college educations to the children of those permanently wounded. And this is our domestic charity at Women in Homeland Security. And we’re having a silent auction on October 20th that Barbara has been diligently organizing. It’s from 6:00 to 9:00 on October 20th, on the rooftop of 1100 New York Avenue, gorgeous location. And we hope you all will show up and help out.
Barbara, do you want to just say a couple of words or – no, not right now.
MS. TANASICHUK: Let me just add really quickly that on your tables, there are little handouts, and that is made specifically for you to just tack on to your wall. And we are handling all the events for Women in Homeland Security through Eventbrite now. So when you log in to that website, you’ll see everything that’s going on for WHS and you can register for the October 20th event and also our DHS CIO roundtable on the 14th of October. So please take one of those with you and keep it handy.
MS. KEPHART: Well, just one more note on that. Barbara, Kristina, Julie, myself, we’re all very heavily involved with No Greater Sacrifice. They just had their first gala in New York City last week, raised a million dollars in one night. So we are going to try to raise $25,000 for the child of a female permanently wounded soldier and we hope that those of you who are interested might want to join us.
So I will leave it at that and now I’m going to go back into the film for a second here or for a few minutes actually.
Let me talk about the film a little bit. This is the third in our series of our Arizona films and let me just backtrack for a minute and explain to you sort of how we came to where we are right now. The first was released in July, 2009. That one came to me from a gentleman in Arizona who is taking hidden camera footage. He was aware of our organization, having sending me e-mails for a long time, I finally started looking at his footage, was very animated about what I found and saw and really figured that a storyline needed to go with it. So in July, 2009, we released our first film, basically focused on hidden camera footage of large groups of illegal aliens on trails that they create through the Coronado National Forest, about 10 to 15 miles north of the border, east to Nogales. And it focused on the environmental impact. So there was lots of hidden camera footage of animals crossing the cameras and following the trash and following the people and the potential there.
The result of that was that the border patrol put a forward operating base to cut off those trails and closed down the campsites that were in the forest, associated with those trails because of some uproar that occurred from that film.
The second film, we released in July of this year. And as Mark mentioned, we were extremely surprised at how it took off virally. We had over half a million hits in a month on that particular one. And I think it was because not only did we focus on now 20 miles north of the border – again, treacherous mountainous terrain, large groups of 30 and more illegals passing cameras, no federal law enforcement in sight in any of the hidden camera footage – but also that we went down again north, to the current hidden camera source that I work with that you saw on this film; 80 miles north of the border, using his footage, which was both the gun-turning smugglers, as well as the drug cartel folks, as well with the packs.
That I think – from the perspective of SP1070 being out there when we release that film, I think the biggest outcome of that film was that even those who disagreed with SP1070 could not negate the seriousness of the problem that Arizona was dealing with. And that, to me, was just a huge step forward in and of itself to sort of level out that playing field of evidence that people were willing to discuss it from.
So with this third film – I basically have four objectives with this film and I hope that they came across. The first one was – as I say in this film itself, was to reveal the travel methods of the cartels. And this is something that I’ve specialized in.
This is what I did when I was counsel on the September 11 Commission. Terrorist travel became our thing on the commission and we detailed the travel patterns of the hijackers. It’s something that I think – when I went out there to look, it’s something we’re not doing with the cartels. We’re not making it public. And I think making it public will make a big difference.
And also because just very specifically, it gives the opportunity for law enforcement to see what’s going on. They probably already know, but for those who are not in the know, it gives them the opportunity to let the cartels scramble a bit because now that some things have been revealed, they have to scramble. That gives law enforcement the opportunity to capitalize on the mistakes that the cartels might make travelling.
So the second one was our discussion of what is a secure border and what does that mean? It seems that this administration, when you listen closely, you hear a lot about lower apprehension numbers. We have lower apprehension numbers. Is that how we want to define secure? And does that definition take into consideration the cartels? I don’t think that it does. And after you watch a film like this, is that definition of secure lower apprehension numbers an acceptable definition to you and to the American people?
Third is simply to tell the truth about what’s going on, on the ground. And that to me is a huge part of what I do. I’ve always considered myself, whether I was in the Senate or working for the commission, somewhat of an investigator. I guess I have a bit of a reporter in me somewhere. And to me part of this is just about telling the truth.
And the fourth is more of a policy discussion and I’ll call it the not capitulating discussion, which is to give reasons to America to not capitulate on what border security is and to give in on the meaning of that. And the reason I bring that up is recently, in the last couple of weeks, the new Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told reporters that, quote, “a sealed border is unrealistic, but a perceived as secure border was an important goal.” He went on to say that the border had all it needed now in terms of technology and manpower and infrastructure, and the only thing that would really make a difference in securing the border was comprehensive immigration reform.
As would be expected, Secretary Napolitano says the same thing, but a little more succinctly. She recently told Congress, to the Senate that, quote, “an unprecedented amount of manpower and technology has secured the Southwest border and along with lower apprehension numbers, this clear the way for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and that is what needs to happen next.”
I personally don’t see how those comments really pass a logic test, but that being said – and this is maybe a little bit unfair of me to do, but if you take President Obama’s comments on the attacks of September 11 that probably many of you are familiar with – he made these to Woodward and they were made public last week – and you switch out the word – the term “drug cartel” for “terrorist,” this is what you get: “we can absorb the “drug cartels” on our border and in every city across America. We can absorb them and we are stronger.” If that is where we are going in our thinking, as an American, I don’t know about you, but that kind of language somewhat haunts me.
So what I want to do is – I don’t like spending my time railing on things or people or even the government, frankly, because there’re a lot of people out there trying really hard to do their jobs and they do them really well. And that’s not my goal here.
So what I want to do right now is talk about the National Guard. We are in the Army-Navy Club. And the National Guard, I think if you’re talking about the cartels, the National Guard is something you have to talk about. And so what I’m going to do is I’m going to compare this current Operation Copper Cactus to the 2006 deployment of the Guard and compare them and really talk about what is sufficient to secure the border. What is it to secure the border and what is it that we need to do?
We’ve seen the film. I complained. Now, let’s look at some solutions.
So the Guard is 470,000 strong. It’s been deployed to the border since 1993 consistently and in the early years, and its predominant activity is really to build and maintain fences and bridges. But in 2006, the Guard helped secure the Yuma sector of Arizona. And today, that sector provides a model for success in securing a border sector, as San Diego did years prior to that.
I’m focusing on the Guard because it’s my view that the border patrol’s mission has really never been defined as one to handle the intensity or level or threat that the drug cartels pose, nor the serious nature of the infiltration that I believe has begun to affect our national security. The Guard is well trained. They’ve been on the border for years. They have overseas training. And they can do more than be a deterrent. Even with Posse Comitatus in effect, which curtails the Guard from doing law enforcement functions, there’re many things the Guard can and have done that can be effective in curtailing Mexico’s escalating problems from crossing over our border.
You may recall that the promise came to deploy the Guard by the president back in May. They’re only now this week fully deployed. In Arizona, there will be 532 Guard for the 646 Arizona border miles. Just to put those numbers in context, a successful Guard mission from 2006, in the Yuma sector, required 5,000 Guard on 126 border miles. So the scale of deployment here is significantly lower than prior deployments.
Also much smaller is their mission and I want to focus a little bit on that. This deployment is called Operation Copper Cactus. And they are to serve as eyes and ears of the border patrol. And they will conduct surveillance and provide intelligence to federal authorities. They’re also trained to, quote, “support customs and border protection with entry identification teams.” What this actually means, though, if you talk to folks on the border and you read between the text is that if an illegal alien comes within the perimeter of a Guard encampment, they can approach the illegal alien and they know what to do, but they are not allowed to approach any illegal outside of their encampment.
The other aspect of their work is to, quote, “support ICE with criminal investigative analysts for one year and they are to assist in reducing the flow of illegal both currency and weapons from the United States to Mexico.” There is no mission there for anything coming across the border north.
So if Julie wants to comment on that, I’ll leave that one to her.
What is interesting is that the National Guard will not be doing any of its traditional work. They’re not going to be building and maintaining fences and bridges. Specifically buried in the language is that they are to be a deterrent effect and not actively participate in any infrastructure building that was so key to prior missions.
Here’s what Arizona attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor Terry Goddard had to say a couple of weeks ago about the deployment. Quote, “these soldiers will work with the border patrol and will be put to good use. But the federal government needs to do more to take the fight to the organized criminals who bring most of the drugs and illegal immigrants across our border.
We need to hit the cartels in Mexico with decisive, overwhelming and bi-national force. Defensive steps alone will not stop these deeply entrenched, heavily armed and well-funded organizations.” And I have to say I have a lot of respect for Attorney Gen. Goddard. I testified with him in front of House Homeland Security Committee in July on alien smuggling. And he was extremely excellent and has done a lot of really cutting edge things that basically the congressmen were imploring the federal agents who were sitting at the table to take heed of and follow. So my kudos to Attorney General Goddard.
Let’s look at what has worked in securing a completely out of control sector now. Four to five years ago, when illegal and drug activity on the border was surging in western Arizona, we have to remember that this is not the first time we have serious drug cartel activity. It has happened before and has gotten under control. According to the border patrol, in January 2004, the Yuma sector border lands owned by the Department of Interior and located in far western Arizona experienced a huge surge in illegal entries. There was no fence there. Agents were assaulted with rocks and weapons daily and outnumbered 50 to one.
In 2005, more than 2,700 load trucks full of aliens and drugs illegally breached that sector. Smugglers were leading masses through the desert, leaving sick and wounded to die. The smugglers did not stop for agents when in hot pursuit of vehicles. There were many crashes and many deaths. By 2005, 138,500 illegal aliens were apprehended, and the numbers were still increasing just in 126 miles of sector.
Today, the Yuma sector is relatively clean to its past. The border patrol can do its job. Apprehensions are down 94 percent to 8,500 in 2008. You don’t hear about the Yuma sector much anymore.
Why and how? In May 2006, President Bush announced Operation Jumpstart, deploying over 5,000 National Guard citizen-soldiers and airmen to assist the border patrol in securing the boundary with Mexico. For the first time in three years, the numbers of illegal entries began to decrease. And according to then Governor Napolitano’s 2006 Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Annual Report the Guard’s job was far beyond being the eyes and ears of the border patrol. They were actively working on the border, doing the following – and this is from her report – “the Arizona National Guard, as well as the other Southwest border states, was tasked to support Operation Jump Start in coordination with DHS and the U.S. Customs and border patrol” – she said “patrol” instead of “protection,” but that’s okay.
“Since July 2006, the Arizona Army National Guard has provided over 5,489 Guardsmen to support missions along the international border with Mexico in Yuma and Tucson. The missions tasked to National Guard soldiers include” – and listen to the breadth of this – “surveillance, camera operation, vehicle maintenance support, aviation support, unprecedented amounts of tactical infrastructure, including 100 miles of border fencing, covering all of Yuma with fencing or natural barriers, entry identification teams along the entire – along most of the border with Mexico, rescue operations of those left to die in the desert by smugglers or crash sites from high speed chases.” And here’s the clincher, drug interdiction.
In addition, there were two new border patrol stations in Yuma, and mobile surveillance sensors with ground radar as well. All of the personnel and tactical infrastructure were backed up by criminal prosecutions of illegal entrants known as Operation Streamline.
Then Operation Stonegarden came in behind that and funded the localities – and this is still in effect – to help assist border security. So Arizona’s local law enforcement could back up federal law enforcement and that is still in effect today.
This is the story, I think, that needs to be learned and lessoned from. I believe our current policies are boiling down to a form of capitulation. And working to make the border just as perceived to be – perceived as secure is not good enough. And actually I would say it’s lame.
My view is that working together with the Guard appropriately and within traditional bounds, we can secure the borders sector by sector. It’s just that we have to have the will as a nation to make it happen. So that’s my view. And I’ll turn it over to Julie.
JULIE MYERS WOOD: Thank you, Janice. And I just want to say that I think these films are really tremendous and to giving, not just a bird’s-eye view, but a kind of a ground-level view of what most of us can never see, what is actually happening out there kind of day after day. And I think it’s a tremendous public service that Center for Immigration Studies is doing and that Janice is doing in putting together these films and disseminating the message.
So thank goodness for that I guess pesky guy that kept sending you those e-mails. That really made a difference, I think, in terms of kind of getting the message out there more broadly.
I think for me one of the things that was most troubling in the film is to really see what I think is the warning sign for Americans and those who are authorized to be here, the warning sign on the highway, saying “watch out” because it’s really – it’s kind of a welcome sign to the drug smugglers and to the enterprises. And I think that – that is a kind of a very sobering and very frightening thing. But I’ll take a bit of issue with Janice in that I would agree with Secretary Napolitano. I do think there’s been an unprecedented amount of effort and progress that is being made against the drug cartels.
And I think in part this is due to the changes over the last couple of years in Mexican extradition laws and the willingness of the Mexican government to actually extradite some of top leadership in various cartels. And the Department of Justice has seen, I think, some good successes in starting to attack at the top these cartels, starting to bring some of them back to the United States because that’s what we have to do. If you think about all of the people that were carrying the backpacks kind of full of drugs, do you think they know what cartel they’re working for? Probably not. Do you think they know kind of the guy right above, the person who gave them the backpack with the drugs? Probably not. And so when you arrest a drug mule, it can be a deterrent for that drug mule, but often for the cartel is the cost of doing business.
You can sometimes kind of buildup cases against criminal organizations starting with the drug mules, but you can’t always do it. And the drug organizations are very, very smart in really limiting the information that’s disseminated to the drug mules. And so one of the challenges that we have kind of on the highway in the Tohono is that there’re so many kind of people coming through, and even when there are stops and things in place, you can’t get everybody.
When I was a prosecutor, I worked a lot at JFK Airport up in Brooklyn. And we had flights that were target flights. Avianca 010 – certain flights that customs screened everybody really rigorously because it was a known drug route. The problem here is it’s a known drug route and there’s not enough infrastructure at the border, not enough, as Janice says, National Guard, not enough kind of efforts to dissuade it. And so you can have individualized cases against the drug mules, but what you need to have as well are targeted attacks at the leadership, and bringing those cases through wiretaps, through really kind of invigorated long-term investigative campaigns.
I actually think on the investigative side, kind of putting the National Guard to the side, that the Department of Justice and Homeland Security actually have the right strategy to look at the drug cartels as they looked at the mafia and to try to take them down kind of piece by piece, try to get to the leadership, extradite the leadership, and attack them.
And I will say, I think there’re some very promising signs in the District of Arizona in terms of just going after the drug mules, just making some deterrents just case by case. The U.S. attorney there reported there’s a 99-percent increase in drug filings since 2008. That’s significant. And that I would bet is in large part due to kind of mule cases, some of which are turning into bigger cases, maybe a case against the driver, maybe a case against somebody back in Mexico, but a lot of which are just kind of routine cases where the cartel think “is our cost to doing business,” but you’re getting one individual kind of off the road, one pack moving.
The federal government is also, though, I think looking at the leaders of the cartel in a strategic way, which I think is helping through the CPOT in particular list, which is a list of consolidated priority organizational targets. And on that list, over half of them are the leadership of the Mexican drug cartels. And they have had some significant extraditions, including the head of the Golf cartel, some high leaders in Sinaloa, and other cartels. They’ve also been effective in looking at rooting out corruption within the Mexican government law enforcement itself.
Unfortunately, just as we sometimes have the problem here, in Mexico, there’s also sometimes problems with corruption inside the government. And there’ve been some big cases against, unfortunately, very familiar faces to those of us who work Mexico issues in terms of people who’ve been corrupted and now are in jail or off the job.
So I think the investigative targets and strategy is working. It just needs to be more. They just need to kind of press on.
There was testimony, I think, in mid-2009 where folks from the Attorney General’s Office and other places talked about what they were doing, but it’s obviously not enough. It’s obviously not enough if we see kind of the streaming in. So how are they redoubling their efforts? What extraditions do they think they’re going to have this year? Where are the new indictments that are coming down? How can they demonstrate kind of long-term sustained effort?
The second thing I would say, which is clear to me from looking at this video is more needs to be done on the Tohono Reservation. You think it’s about the size of Connecticut, two-and-a-half million acres. Putting a border patrol aside, there is an investigative unit that works on that reservation. Guess how many folks are in that investigative unit?
MR. : Three?
MS. WOOD: More than three, 15, 15. It’s the Shadow Wolves, which is the only kind of native American investigative group, which – and they are very, very good at identifying the travel methods that Janice talked about. Sometimes, they can even track someone by an overturn pebble. Fifteen is not enough when that’s a major smuggling route. There are sometimes some challenges in getting enough folks who are tribal members interested in this, but that should be a priority for DHS. That should be a priority. They should seek to expand the Shadow Wolves because they can make some of the good cases. They’re out there. They know what they’re doing.
The third thing I would say is to also focus on the alternative travel methods that we’re starting to see. I totally agree with Janice that the fact that apprehensions are down, that doesn’t make me sleep well at night. How are – are drug interdictions up? They should be way up. Are other things up? What can we see that’s showing real progress?
But we are seeing the cartels switch some of their methods. And so I think that is interesting. We are seeing the use of ultra-light aircraft, kind of gliders with an engine. They’re using baskets to smuggle narcotics. And that – the use of that may show that there’s some hardened effect at the border. I don’t know. Maybe they’re just hedging their bets. But I think it’s good to see that we are seeing these other methods. Also of course the increase in tunnels over the last several years I think is something that shows the cartels are resorting to other means.
Certainly, I hope that the National Guard effort this time can be kind of grown and expanded, as Janice says, but I actually think it’s encouraging on the investigative side that DOJ and DHS are actually focusing on these cartels as a whole as targets and that Mexico was helping us bring some of these folks back to face justice.
In terms of why is ICE looking at guns and money going south – and I think that’s a very good question – and the reason I think that their focus on guns and money going south is because guns and money aren’t coming up. The things that are coming up are the drugs and when the drugs are sold, they’re sold or exchanged for guns or money that are then sent back down to the cartel leadership. Often, the money and the guns can be more expensive than the drugs. And so being able to have a large increase in both cash prosecutions and as well as guns is great.
I do agree with, I think, what was implied by Janice’s comment that there has been I think a little too much of an emphasis on the guns going south. It is something we should look at. It’s something we should be tracking, but that should not be kind of our top priority. And our top priority really should be how do we most effectively take down the cartels? And tracing every single gun is probably not the way we’re going to dismantle them.
So I want to thank Janice for the opportunity to participate. I think this was a – it’s a tremendous film and I hope it sparks a lot of interest from citizens.
MS. KEPHART: I hope so. I hope so.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Janice, could I take the privilege of the moderator to ask a question, since I paid for lunch – (laughter) – and then we’ll take Q&A from folks. The thing I wanted to ask is the context this whole issue is in, and that is that Mexico is undergoing what Secretary of State Clinton has called something similar to an insurgency. It certainly looks that way. The – at least one of the cartels seems to have developed at least some kind of political/ religious kind of motivation, La Familia.
And this real question is to whether Mexico is at least a failing state if not a – certainly not a failed state yet by any means, but is that if that’s the direction is going. And obviously border control then has much more relevance even than keeping marijuana out of the country. It becomes a much more relevant thing. So I just want to hear anybody’s thoughts on the – whether we actually even have a partner or are going to have a partner in a few years in Mexico to deal with. In other words, if Mexico – it’s not going to become Somalia, but if it turns into something more like Colombia, then where are we?
MS. KEPHART: I’m going to – I’ll just say quickly because I really think this is Julie’s question. But quickly on that, one of the things that has bothered me a little bit is the emphasis on – that our border security is dependent on Mexican-U.S. involvement and working together. That is absolutely essential, but what we’re not hearing is our responsibility on our side of the border to assure that our infrastructure, our technology, our personnel, our mission, our policies, are all in synch with making sure the border is secure. That is what we’re not hearing. So while we applaud ATF’s efforts and ICE efforts to take care of guns and cash going south, what are we doing to makes sure that long-term we are building what we need to, to keep a secure border?
So to some extent, I think the issue of Mexico – it falls on us in the end to secure our own border. So to the extent Mexico is important, it absolutely is, but from my point of view, we have to focus on ourselves and take responsibility for our own border.
MS. WOOD: I would certainly – I would certainly agree with that. I think we have a partner now. I don’t know if we’re going to have a partner in a few years. I think that Merida is a disappointment. I think that the efforts the U.S. made and given – sometimes different personalities or other things can be more effective in our home countries. The efforts that were made in play Colombia and the follow-through that the U.S. government had in play in Colombia, compared to kind of what we’re seeing in Merida, I think it’s a little bit disappointing. And I think we need to kind of redouble our efforts to make sure we’re really pushing so that we are going to have a partner.
I think it was pretty shocking. It was a year, a year-and-a-half ago, when some of the kind of higher level folks were accused and found guilty of corruption. And it’s folks that –
MR. KRIKORIAN: In Mexico? Imagine that.
MS. WOOD: No, but people that the DOJ leadership had worked for and knew for many years, folks I’d been in 20, 30, 40 meetings with. And it is – it’s not surprising, but it’s troubling. And so the question is, is there going to be kind of stabilization going forward or is there not? And I think this is – we’re at a real turning point. I think you’re right. You see the cartels are partnering in different ways. They’re getting more authority. And we very well could be, as Secretary of State said, at a negative turning point with the narco insurgency and being where Colombia was 20 years ago, but not coming out of it.
So it is – I think the – it’s not clear yet which way it’s going to go, but it is troubling. I will say that the change in extradition laws, I personally believe has been one of the most important things to make some real progress, to actually get some of these leaders out of Mexico. If we did not have the ability to do that as we didn’t kind of previously and closer to real time, we’d be in much deeper trouble.
MS. TANASICHUK: I have one standard question that Women in Homeland Security always asks, and that is – and I guess I’ll direct it to you, Julie, because I think we know how Janice feels – (laughter) – but if you were the secretary of homeland security right now, and a big caveat, and all the politicians were not here, what do you think would secure the border the best or the most effectively in the short-term and then in the long-term?
MR. KRIKORIAN: And write this down because in 2013 – (inaudible, laughter).
MS. WOOD: I’m smart enough never to take that very unwinnable job.
But I think Janice’s point at looking at how do we deploy the National Guard kind of smarter is something I do in the first instance. If you think about the surge that we’ve had overseas, we need a surge to protect our border, a real surge, and not something that is a surge in name only.
So I would really kind of look at that, look at some of the things that have worked and kind of pilot those out, and then try to figure out is there some technology and infrastructure that can be more helpful? What are we doing with the most basic things, with the license plate readers? Are they out there everywhere? Are we tracking is the same car going through? Are we tracking is the same license plate going through? If this highway is such an area of concern, what are we doing to kind of – to remove it as a major trafficking route?
Q: I have a question. I’m going to stand up so all of you – (off mike) – all can hear back there. So for some of you who might recognize me and you’re like, “she looks familiar,” I’m Michelle Mrdeza. I used to be the staff director of the Homeland Security – House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. And I’m delighted that Jeff – (inaudible) – who’s one of my former colleagues is also here.
And it’s really important because – that Jeff is here, too because he brings tremendous institutional knowledge in terms of funding for border security. He’s been at this business for what, 18 years, Jeff? Okay, I’m sorry I’m dating you. (Laughter.) But what’s really – your comments are really so interesting to me and so right on. Both of you are just really leaders in this area and I really commend you and thank you for your leadership.
From the Hill perspective, from the appropriations perspective, which is very narrow, I would add, in many different ways, we – and I’ve been off to Hill for four years now, but we just threw money at the border. And even as you referenced in this film, another $600 million in border security just went out the door a month or so ago.
But where are we at in terms – we’re certainly not – it’s not a money issue. There’s just an insatiable appetite and an insatiable desire to continue to fund border security so it’s safer. So your point, Janice, about having a coordinated and synchronized effort is one that truly resonates with me.
And it was one of my major frustrations on Capitol Hill that, while I had responsibility for the Homeland Security Subcommittee, and then Jeff and I also worked in the Treasury, Postal Services and General Government Subcommittee – so we’re really dating ourselves – which had legacy customs underneath it. That was one piece of the pie. And we, as hard as we tried, could never get coordination across the other appropriations subcommittees in order to have a consolidated look at border security.
And now that I’m on the outside, what’s even more frustrating is I see these great programs that are out there – and you mentioned gun tracing – you’re right. On its own, tracing all the guns out there is not going to solve it, but if you coordinate that effort with other programs that are operated by ATF and DEA and others down there, then you can really solve this problem.
So I guess that’s a statement. It’s also – the question is and really for both of you, you clearly, Janice, have an idea how we can do that coordination and synchronize our efforts along the border.
And then also, Julie, from your perspective, having had – been in a leadership role in homeland security, how do you cross – how do you break down those barriers with the Department of Justice, not just here in D.C., in the headquarters’ level, but out in the fields where we’re working with state, local, federal law enforcement, not only on our side of the border but also with the Mexican authorities? That’s – was a really long winded question, but it just really struck a chord with me on here we are, 20 something years later and we still haven’t secured our border despite the billions of dollars that we put there.
MS. KEPHART: For me, I think one of the really important places to start is with a recognition from the very top that it’s an important issue and a priority issue. You start there and then you go second to a mission that’s really about the stewardship of our country. And whether the secretary’s position is political or not it’s an issue of stewardship of our homeland security that I think is extremely important. And we have had secretaries who have taken that seriously like that.
So I think if you take it from that point of view, then you plug in the fact that you need a strategy that’s holistic. How does border patrol that’s 100 miles into the border, for its jurisdiction, interact with ICE? And then what are your goals for that interaction? And where does your strategy need to be when you know the flexibility with which the cartels and the illegal smugglers, coyotes, move? And how do you place that?
I think the thing – there’re two things that strike me very clearly that are not there that need to be. One is this underpinning that I discovered doing these films that we do not have sufficient federal law enforcement on federal lands.
Most of Arizona and those border lands is federal lands or it’s the Tohono O’odham Reservation, almost all of it is. The only private property you have is to the very east side in Douglas, where Mr. Krentz was murdered. That’s the only area that’s private property. All the rest is public property.
Why is it, then, that the biggest problem is in Arizona? There has been a longstanding problem in Arizona of Department of Interior, much less Department of Agriculture and Forest Lands, much less so, but Department of Interior primarily exacting a huge price out of the border patrol for operating on those lands.
Now, Secretary Chertoff tried very, very hard to overcome that. There was an agreement in place. The agreement sits there. On paper it is there. But it is not operating on the ground.
If you talk to the Natural Resources Subcommittee, the Republican ranking member, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that the border patrol is being made to pay every year for realigning or bettering – reimproving the land that they use when they chase after smugglers and of any kind, for the damage that they do to the land. The (extraction ?) is not coming out of the smugglers themselves.
So Department of Interior has very strict rules about border patrol working on their land. Border patrol, as a result, does not work those lands like they should, and there’s sort of this impasse that happens. That’s why you hear this undercurrent of me talking about very little federal law enforcement on federal land. That problem absolutely has to be solved or none of this would be solved.
The other problem, whatever anybody thinks of fencing, whatever anybody thinks, the fact to the matter is even the Drug Enforcement Agency said that Nogales is a particularly bad spot because there’s no infrastructure east or west. The Coronado Mountains, the Huachuca Mountain and the Coronado National Forest are to the east of Nogales about 26 miles away.
There is nothing for 26 miles from Nogales all the way over to the Coronado National Forest. There is no fencing at all. This is where hundreds of illegal trails are. These are hard places to access for the border patrol, both because of the geography and because of the rules in place to chase after in those areas. So you have no infrastructure and you have little ability to get there. These are really strong problems.
You look at – something I mentioned in my comments that might have gotten lost – and I promise, Julie, I’ll shut up in a second – was that the National Guard surge that happened in 2006 to 2008 under President Bush in Yuma, what they were doing in Yuma was building fencing.
Alongside of all the interdiction they were doing every day and the lifesaving they were doing on the ground every day, they were building fencing along Yuma. It’s all sand dunes out there. That’s where Star Wars was filmed. It’s all sand dunes out there.
So if you go out there, you’ll see from the road, on I-8, you can see the fencing. Tucson never happened. Tucson area, that sector which goes south to Nogales and to the west is Tohono O’odham is the biggest push right now of that illegal activity. When the fencing is there, it seems to make a difference.
And also makes a huge difference with trash. Tons and tons of trash is not left behind where the fencing is. The trash goes around the fencing. You’re saving the environment and you’re cutting down on the smuggling activity.
So smuggling, right now, is being pushed into that area where there is no infrastructure. So you put those combined things together a lack of access to those Department of Interior lands in any real way and lack of infrastructure, you have a serious problem. I think if you begin to solve that with the surge in place, you have something that can really happen that forces the border patrol and Department of Interior to really get it together and make it happen. I think that’s a real key there.
So that’s my longwinded answer to your longwinded question.
MS. WOOD: Well, and in terms of kind of cooperation among law enforcement agencies, which is a problem in every area for time and eternal, you have to force it. You have to – the leadership of the agencies have to force it. Congress has to force it by calling up hearings, putting people together, getting testimony and kind of leadership of the departments have to kind of force it to happen.
I will say, I think it’s a challenge having the border patrol and ICE at a different department than Department of Justice. There are times when the Department of Justice wants to do something that’s identical to what happens at the Department of Homeland Security, but wants it now to be a DOJ-led thing. And I think that – so that it’s a difficult situation. And vice versa and DHS wants to do something that DOJ is already doing. And so I think really kind of having the leadership.
I do think on, kind of, the prosecution side and on the DOJ side, the local level makes a difference. So Dennis Burke – who I think is – needs to make sure everybody is playing together. He’s the chief law enforcement officer in Arizona. And so he needs to kind of make sure everybody plays. And usually, where the U.S. attorney is strong, people don’t have as much kind of infighting and bickering.
But the border patrol is the big green machine that they are and a lot of people, a lot of power, a lot of money, and they’re going to be difficult to convince to do something they don’t want to do for anybody. But I think you just have to force people to do it, provide incentives in their performance plan. And I think this is where Congress can really be effective in calling people up for hearings and things.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, ma’am.
Q: Hi, Julie – (off mike). We haven’t talked at all about the other side of the equation and I know this is the tough part of it, but I’d just like your thoughts. What do you about the – (off mike) – load of drugs that come across every day? If you just read the press releases for what we actually recover a capture. And you can – (off mike) – multiply times four and it’s probably more like 10 or 12. I think we’re making a mistake really at the very root of this problem and not having stricter penalties enforced for use and purchase and that sort of thing because that profit motive is so strong and that’s why that thing proliferates.
MS. WOOD: Right. No. I think you are exactly right. And that is particularly true, frankly, in the case of marijuana. When I was a prosecutor in Brooklyn, we didn’t prosecute any marijuana cases, no matter how big it was. If you came in with marijuana, if you’re transporting marijuana, just wasn’t serious enough in Brooklyn to do it federally. Now, there were great state prosecutions, but you have that kind of all around. Marijuana isn’t treated as seriously. That keeps the price of marijuana low. And demand is high.
One thing that the government is doing is trying to turn over a lot cases to Mexico – well maybe not a lot – they turned over 26 cases in the Nogales area or so and then they’re also piling into somewhere else because the Mexicans have been very frustrated that the marijuana threshold was kind of way too high to prosecute the individual drug mules. If they had backpacks full of heroin, the U.S. attorney offices probably would take them, but since they had backpacks of marijuana, they don’t.
One of the challenges now is that they’re turning these cases over to Mexico. Two of them have resulted in significant sentences. A lot of them have been declined. So we’re starting to see actually that Mexico may not have the capacity to address kind of on the marijuana side the issue.
The new drug czar is really trying to look at the demand side from kind of getting at folks who want marijuana. And that’s a real challenge with the spread of medical marijuana and the change in the winds. So I don’t have a crystal ball kind on that one. But you’re exactly right if we don’t attack demand – and that’s what the Mexicans are saying all the time – we’re never going to make as much progress as we’d like.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else? Oh, okay, yes, sir.
Q: I’m going to kind of change the subject a little bit –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Hold on. Wait for the mike.
Q: – talking around the drug and immigration thing quite a bit, but I’ve been reading some lately online about this couple of times a month flight direct from Tehran via Damascus to Caracas and they take them not through Venezuelan customs, but over on the other side of the runway, process them somehow other than normal Venezuelan customs, and then twice a month the plane load of people disappear. Recently, we’ve been seeing that some of the tactics of Hezbollah are starting to appear in the Mexican border. And I want you to address that – what’s that whole thing about?
MS. KEPHART: I’m not familiar with that particular thing, but I can talk about terrorism and national security in the border, if you want, just a little bit. The issue of – it’s interesting you bring up Venezuela because for many, many years we were not paying attention to Venezuela.
We have reports sort of intermittently coming in of Venezuela washing fairly friendly to al-Qaida. There’re reports on September 11 of parades being organized in the streets in Venezuela to support al-Qaida, of a million dollars going from Chaves to al-Qaida, and also of terrorists. We had a gentleman who was running immigration in Venezuela come to America a few years ago, requesting asylum, stating that he had been told to wash the identities of al-Qaida to help them get to the United States, giving them Venezuela passports.
The State Department eventually did put them on the list of passports to be very careful of. But we don’t know how many folks came in that way. I’m not sure that answers your question at all.
In terms of Hezbollah and al-Qaida, Hezbollah has a huge presence in the tri-border region of South America. They have for a very long time. What we’re dealing with down there at this point is second generation Hezbollah who are born and raised in South America who have the names, have the dialect, everything, now perhaps being sent into America for the purpose – usually with Hezbollah, it’s terror financing. They’ve been doing that for years, crossing the border.
There was a guy by the name of Bugader (ph) who was prosecuted some five years ago. He had brought a couple of hundred Hezbollah across the border illegally. That was his job. They would go to the Lebanese consulate, get a visa to Mexico. They come to Mexico, washed their identity, and come up through the border that way. Most of them were young and they were here for whatever purpose.
Infiltrating the border on the Southwest with al-Qaida and Hezbollah has been occurring for a long time. I think one of the things that folks are looking at now and concerned about are that the cartels are starting to look like Hezbollah in the activities that they’re doing, the extreme violence, the beheadings, the hangings off bridges, the car bombs, the kidnappings. These are things of extreme violence. And what we don’t hear is the extent very much of their coming across the border. Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the United States, one of the kidnapping capitals of the world at this point. And we are not hearing of that problem very often.
So it’s easy to come by. One of the things that concern me from Secretary Napolitano stating recently is her concern that the numbers are actually quite large of potential terrorists here in the United States. I’m guessing we don’t know who they all are and I’m guessing a lot of them came across anonymously. So anyway –
Q: That’s what I was afraid you would say.
MS. KEPHART: – anyway, I don’t know if Julie, you have any comment.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Okay, well, thanks. We’ll let people go. I appreciate your all coming. As I said, this video and all of our other work is online at cis.org. And I assume Kristina has a goodbye thought as well.
MS. TANASICHUK: It’s all on the little handout. (Laughter.) Take that with you.
MS. KEPHART: If anybody – this is my plea. If anybody really likes the video, please share it. Please repost it. It is very helpful to us once it goes up on YouTube in a couple of hours to really start getting those plays. We’ve already got some media interest in it. But this purpose is not for media attention to CIS, but media attention to the issue itself. So if you like the video and want to share it, please do.
MR. : We’ll – (inaudible) – for you.
MS. KEPHART: Thank you.
MS. TANASICHUK: We’ll be sure to post it on – all of her films on WHS as well.
MS. KEPHART: Thank you all very much.