Yesterday, Indiana Rep. Dan Burton (R) proclaimed in a speech on the House floor that the U.S. is “at war.” However, Burton wasn’t talking about U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor is it readily evident that Burton was simply engaging in hyperbolic rhetoric. Instead, Burton went on a furious rampage about how the federal government will not allow federal agents to enter Mexico armed. “We shouldn’t be asking our CIA, DIA, DEA agents to go into Mexico to fight the drug dealers…and tell them they don’t even have a weapon to protect themselves,” stated Burton. According to him, the U.S. is fighting a war on U.S. and Mexican soil that may require the use of armed force:
We’re in a war down there on that border. If you talk to the people in Texas, they will tell you — there is a war between us and the drug dealers and the thugs that are coming across that line into our country. And, there’s a high suspicion that we’re seeing al-Qaeda and Taliban type terrorists coming across the border into the United States.
It’s a war make no mistake about it — the Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said — and it’s happening on American soil. In this country! [...] We’re never going to solve that border problem unless we realize that it’s an area that we have to focus on, that it’s a war, and that our citizens are in danger down there.
To begin with, the Obama administration doesn’t arm federal agents operating in Mexico because it’s against Mexican law, which prohibits foreign diplomats or agents from carrying weapons or engaging in law enforcement activities. Ever since U.S. intervention in the Mexican Revolution, Mexico has been wary about allowing foreign officials to arm themselves while conducting business in the country. Given the fact that some U.S. politicians have actually floated the idea of U.S. military involvement in Mexico, it’s understandable that there may be some political unease associated with modifying the restrictions. It’s also worth noting that the federal agent who was killed in Mexico wasn’t there to “fight the drug cartels.” He was there for a training exercise.
Attorney General Eric Holder actually suggested asking Mexico to allow dozens of U.S. federal agents working there to be armed. Mexican President Felipe Calderon didn’t make any promises, but he did affirm that, “We definitely have to find a way to elevate the level of protection for all agents who, according to law, work against criminality. We will, of course, analyze alternatives and talk to the Mexican congress, which ultimately has the last word.” Ultimately, it seems like the best solution would be for the U.S. to tighten its gun restrictions and prevent our own weapons from flowing down south.
Meanwhile, as I pointed out yesterday, the U.S. side of the Mexican border is “safer than it’s ever been.” While Burton cites anecdotal evidence to back up his claims, hard data suggests quite the opposite. Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation and those rates have dropped by more than 30 percent since the 1990s while immigration has soared. Border agents do carry guns.
While the murder of border agent Brian Terry was certainly tragic, there have also been several cases in which it appears border agents used excessive force and killed unarmed Mexican teenagers.