Customs and Border Protection official assesses border violence

The rampant violence in northern Mexico from feuding drug lords has not spilled into the United States, even though a prominent Arizona rancher recently was found shot to death on his property, the new commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday.

The March 27 slaying of rancher Robert Krentz near Douglas, Ariz., has renewed calls for stronger border security, including redeploying National Guard forces along the Southwest border with Mexico. Authorities are investigating who shot Krentz, but speculation has mounted that it may have been a smuggler.

Alan Bersin, who received a recess appointment from President Obama in March, said at a news briefing that no decision has been made to send the National Guard back to the border.

He said the United States hasn't seen the same kind of violence and large number of killings that are occurring in Mexico, referring to "the kind of thing that we've seen ... in terms of shootouts in public places" and other blatant acts.

"Having lived and worked on the border for many, many years, I certainly understand that there is significant violence in the United States that is attributable to organized crime based in Mexico," Bersin said. "The question is not are we affected by violence that has its origin in Mexico. But we need to distinguish that from the kind of violence that Mexico is experiencing."

"In order to assess the threat properly and to respond to it, there needs to be distinction," he said.

Bersin joined the Homeland Security Department a year ago as a special representative for border security. The department then launched its Southwest border initiative, under which it sent more resources and technology to the border to prevent spillover violence and stop illicit cash from being smuggled into Mexico.

"I think we saw good results in terms of what was happening at the border," Bersin said. "The recent tragic murder or Robert Krentz in the Douglas area of Arizona and the events in [Ciudad] Juarez [Mexico] underline the need to make this a consistent review of our capacities, our plans and our reactions to threats -- real and potential on the border."

But Bersin did not answer whether the security situation in Mexico is better or worse today. "This is a process that will play out over many years," he said, adding that the Mexican government has made a "fundamental decision" to fight organized crime.

"I think there's been significant progress, not only measured in terms of ... the Mexican kingpins that have been captured or removed from their businesses," he said. "The continued level of support that the Mexican people have for that effort I think is an indication that for all the difficulties that the violence [creates], that basically this is a decision that the Mexican people support and one that we support."

On another front, Bersin said he expects to see more cooperation from foreign governments to strengthen aviation security in response to a failed terrorist plot to blow up an airplane over Detroit on Christmas.

He noted that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been traveling to other countries in an effort to improve cooperation.

"The partnerships that the secretary's attempting to build internationally. ... I think is having its impact," Bersin said. "We're going to begin to see the recognition by all nations that, in a global world, aviation is a transnational responsibility."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec