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US, Mexico Security Officials Discuss Speeding Border Flow - 2003-04-26

U.S. homeland security director Tom Ridge has met with his Mexican counterpart to discuss ways of speeding the flow of people and goods between the two countries. The Mexican official also urged new talks on the issue of Mexican migrants who are in the United States illegally.

The officials say the fast flow of goods and people is essential for the economies of both countries, and that a high tech system which now speeds the flow of commuters with pre-approved clearances will be expanded to speed the flow of cargo.

But Mexican interior minister Santiago Creel says the United States cannot achieve border security while ignoring the four million Mexicans who are in the United States illegally. The U.S. official said he agrees that the issue of undocumented migrants should be a priority.

U.S.-Mexico talks on the subject were derailed by the terror attacks of September, 2001, and more recently, Mexico's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq has strained its relations with the United States. But at a joint news conference, Mr. Ridge said the two countries remain friends. Mexico has worked to repair relations by sending Mexican soldiers and police to assist with security at the border and to guard American interests in Mexico.

During his three-day trip to California, Mr. Ridge also met with state and local officials, who complained that they have borne much of the cost of heightened security since September 11. Mr. Ridge said the stepped-up security is expensive, but necessary. "We know that mobilizing at a very high level of readiness presents a financial burden to communities. It's also an enormous deterrent to would-be terrorists," he said.

The federal government recently authorized $2.2 billion in reimbursements for state and local governments, but local officials complain that it's not enough.

U.S. homeland security director Ridge says Democrats and Republicans, and state and federal officials, are all on the same team, fighting the same fight. California governor Gray Davis and the mayor of San Diego say, in private meetings, Mr. Ridge was receptive to their requests for additional federal funds to fight the war on terrorism.