Members of the U.S. Congress are concerned that Mexican drug cartels pose a significant threat to the United States. They are considering new steps to help U.S. and Mexican officials crackdown on drug traffickers.
At joint hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate, said Mexican drug cartels pose a direct threat to the United States.
Durbin quoted a recent Department of Justice report that found that Mexican cartels control most of the U.S. drug market and pose the greatest organized crime threat to the United States today. He said the cartels have a presence in at least 230 U.S. cities, compared to 50 cities in 2006.
Durbin said some of the blame lies here in the United States.
"The insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keeps the Mexican drug cartels in business every day," he said.
The senator also said about 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexican raids are traced back to the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Republican lawmakers also expressed their concern about the drug-related violence in Mexico, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives since the beginning of this year.
"The facts about what is going on in Mexico are staggering, imposing an enormous threat to the United States," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
But U.S. officials who testified at the hearing did not appear as concerned.
Anthony Placido, chief of intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, argued that the increased violence represents what he called a "desperate attempt" by drug traffickers to resist the Mexican government's sustained counter-narcotics campaign.
"DEA assesses that the current surge in violence is driven in large measure by the government of Mexico's offensive against these traffickers who, in turn, perceive themselves as fighting for a larger share of a shrinking market," he said.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon's efforts to combat drug trafficking were noted by several senators, including Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California.
"I think he has put his entire political career in this effort to fight drugs, and I think he needs every single bit of our support," she said.
Feinstein criticized delays in providing helicopters and surveillance equipment to the Mexican government, under a program launched by the Bush administration last year. Mexico is not expected to receive the aircraft and equipment until 2011.
Also testifying at the hearing was Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who said his border state has become a gateway for illegal drugs from Mexico.
He urged Congress to continue funding efforts to help U.S. and Mexican law enforcement fight the drug cartels.
Goddard also called on money transfer companies to do more to help authorities track funds paid to drug smugglers.
"Western Union, by far the largest provider of electronic funds transfer services, and other wire transmitters could be providing valuable information about illegal money transmissions and help us put the illegal transmitters out of business," he said. "But instead of cooperation, Western Union has made every effort to prevent data disclosure and identification of criminal activity, which we would be able to make by that disclosure."
Goddard said Arizona has made some progress in intercepting wire transfer payments to drug smugglers, seizing some $17 million between 2003 and 2007.