The shooting of two U.S. border agents in Mexico on Tuesday raises questions about how the U.S. can step up the fight against Mexican drug cartels and protect U.S. borders with limited resources because of a tight budget.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says the demands on her department have never been greater, especially in the wake of the shooting death of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata.
"I can speak for the entire administration when I say we are not only saddened by the loss of an agent, but we are outraged by this act of violence against an officer of the United States," she said.
Zapata was killed and another agent was shot in the leg Tuesday in Mexico when the two stopped at what appeared to be a military checkpoint, possibly set up by drug traffickers. The Mexican military says it has no checkpoints in that area.
On Thursday at a Senate Homeland Security hearing on the budget, Napolitano said the death of Zapata makes the U.S. even more determined to do everything it can to protect against, mitigate and respond to threats. "We remain relentless in efforts to keep our border secure and to assist Mexico in breaking up the cartels that are plaguing that country," she said.
Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama released his budget proposal which includes nearly $300 million for border technology, $229 million for border personnel and additional border patrol agents and officers.
Napolitano says Mr. Obama's budget proposal for the DHS is enough, but just the minimum amount needed to carry out the department's plans to secure the border.
"President Obama's [fiscal year] 2012 budget for the department allows us to continue to meet these evolving threats and challenges by prioritizing our essential operational requirements, while reflecting an unprecedented commitment to fiscal discipline that maximizes the effectiveness of every security dollar that we receive," she said.
The secretary said the current budget proposal cuts several security measures, including improvements in technology investment for the borders, funding to sustain the progress that's been made in enforcing our immigration laws and intelligence personnel in state and local terrorism prevention and response centers.
Former head of American Immigration Lawyers Association Charles Kuck says our borders are more secure than they ever have been, but he says the U.S. still faces imminent threats and needs to focus its resources on where people are likely to cross the border.
"The government can't stop everything. I think the government is doing an effective job with the dollars that they have and the people that they have, but you have to balance this against the budget people are screaming about. We can’t spend every dollar on border security. We have to spend it smart. We have to spend it in the way we get the most bang for our buck," he said.
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office finds that only 15 percent of the 3,200 kilometer long southwest border with Mexico is sealed, with the other 85 percent being managed. A similar report shows about 52 kilometers of the 6,400 kilometer long northern border with Canada has reached an acceptable level of security.