The House Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has held a hearing on stopping human smuggling across the border between the United States and Mexico. One of the witnesses, Arizona's top prosecutor Terry Goddard, said there is no way to improve U.S. border security without taking on Mexican drug cartels.
The Chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas, explained that for would-be illegal immigrants, crossing the U.S. border is much more difficult than it used to be because of tightened U.S. surveillance and security measures. Cuellar said more and more illegal immigrants are dependent on paying criminal smugglers to get them across the border.
"As we have done more to secure our borders, alien smuggling organizations have increasingly become more bold, violent and dangerous," said Henry Cuellar. "They are now posing new threats to our law enforcement officials, our border communities and the people they attempt to smuggle across our borders."
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said the only way to stop human smuggling and increase U.S. border security is to take on Mexico's increasingly violent drug cartels, in cooperation with the Mexican government. But he said his state has had a lot of success in hurting the powerful drug cartels over the past eight years.
"My strategy has been very simple," said Terry Goddard. "It's to follow the money. We're very money conscious in the state of Arizona. The illegal profits from drug trade, from human smuggling have been our number one objective. And we've been able through a number of techniques to disrupt the flow of funds illegally going out of the country and to seize assets used by smugglers."
Goddard said his officials have been able to distinguish between legitimate wire transfers to Mexico from family members, and wire transfers for the drug cartels.
The hearing took place on the same day that a U.S. federal judge is holding a hearing on the constitutionality of Arizona's controversial new immigration law. It requires police, while enforcing other laws, to examine a person's immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
Although Thursday's hearing was not about the new immigration law, heated political debate on the issue made its way into questions asked by some lawmakers. Republican Congressman Charles Dent of Pennsylvania inserted this comment.
"I absolutely find it incomprehensible that the [U.S.] Department of Justice could be suing the state of Arizona on this issue of enforcing federal immigration law," said Charles Dent.
And on the Democratic side, Congressman Al Green of Texas put Goddard under pressure, asking him repeatedly if he believed in the U.S. Constitution, and if he would challenge a law in his state if he believed it to be unconstitutional.
"Do you also agree that the Attorney General of the United States of America is duty-bound to challenge laws that he believes to be unconstitutional," asked Al Green.
Arizona Attorney General Goddard finally said that if U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sincerely believes the new Arizona law is unconstitutional, he would have "no choice" but to take action.