Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony About Mexican Drug Cartels

So far, it has been a slow week on Capitol Hill. As of this post, the House of Representatives has considered five resolutions naming post offices.

Later this week, the House is expected to consider the GIVE act, which would expand funding for the Americorps public service program. 

The District Voting Rights Act remains stalled in the House due to an amendment that would repeal the district's strict gun laws. It does not appear a compromise is coming soon.

The Senate continued consideration of an omnibus public lands bill and voted unanimously to end automatic pay raises for members of Congress. But the AP reports the measure is unlikely to come up for a vote in the House.

So what else of note was going on then? Our committee meeting of note for the day was the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs hearing on "law enforcement responses to Mexican drug cartels."

In case you haven't been following it lately, the situation in Mexico is bad. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has cracked down on drug cartels, and the drug cartels have responded violently. How violently? Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post:

"Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009. Warring drug cartels are blamed for more than 560 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2007 and the first half of 2008, as well as killings in Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama."

After the jump, Arizona's attorney general and federal officials offer suggestions on combating Mexican drug gangs.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard painted a bleak picture of the situation in Mexico. The drug gangs are "the organized criminal threat of the 21st century," he said. "It's not just a Mexican problem."

Anthony Placido, the Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence chief, praised Calderón's "unprecedented" efforts and warned failure to combat the drug cartels would have "devastating consequences for people on both sides of the border."  

“The violence we see is a signpost of success,” Placido said."These cartels are under a level of pressure they have never been before."
Goddard argued successfully combating the cartels would require "taking the profit out of" their activities.

He said his office had seized more than $17 million in cross-border wire transfers involved in gang activity. He termed the program "effective" but cautioned that more regulations were needed to continue its success.

He asked the senators for a lower reporting threshold for financial transfers. Right now, only wires larger than $10,000 mandate filing a currency transfer report.

Goddard also requested that Congress require stored-value cards, which include prepaid debit cards, be easily scannable by police so smugglers could not easily conceal the amount of money they were carrying.

Both Placido and Goddard called for continued support of the Mérida Initiative, a program launched last year that provides Mexico and Central American countries with $1.6 billion in funding over three years to help them combat drug trafficking. Placido called for more spending on beefing up U.S. law enforcement efforts.

So will anything come from their testimony? Subcommittee chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) seemed receptive to increasing restrictions on money transfers and stored-value cards, and other members appeared to agree the violent cartels were a growing threat to national security.

Should combating drug and human trafficking on the Mexican border be a legislative priority? Tell us what you think.