Texas senators call on Obama to refocus on U.S.-Mexico border drug violence

The ongoing drug war in Mexico is expected to gain a renewed focus on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks as top White House and U.S. military officials ready for a trip to the violence-riddled country following the slayings of three U.S. citizens.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) called on President Barack Obama last week to present Congress with a plan to address the continued carnage that has overwhelmed Mexico and spread into southwestern cities in the U.S.

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Three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate were shot dead over a week ago in a gang-style assassination in the city of Juarez, which is a known hotspot for drug and gang activity.

“The spillover violence in Texas is real and it is escalating,” said Hutchison and Cornyn in their letter. “Our border patrol agents and local law enforcement are more regularly engaged with gunmen associated with drug cartels, but our resources and personnel are limited.”

The senators’ request comes as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced plans to lead a group of high-level U.S. officials to Mexico next Tuesday, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.

Congress has let the drug and gangland violence in Mexico and southwestern America drop off its radar screen in recent months as domestic terrorism and military efforts in Afghanistan have taken the primary homeland security focus.

But with the recent killings and the renewed attention by the White House, it’s highly likely that Congress will undertake initiatives of its own, especially as lawmakers from the Texas, Arizona and California delegations continue to hear heightened concerns from voters.

“We need to know what resources Congress can provide to help implement your administration’s plan as quickly as possible,” said Hutchison and Cornyn in their letter to Obama.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry last week pushed for more unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the border region, as he bolstered the ranks along Texas’ border with Mexico and directed more National Guard resources to the area.

Napolitano recently froze funding of the U.S.’s initiative to build and maintain a fence that stretches the length of the Mexican border. She redirected the money to purchase and maintain more mobile radios and laptops – amongst other equipment – for federal law enforcement officials working in the border region.

The fence’s funding, which began under President George W. Bush, is on hold until a study of the spending is completed, Napolitano said, adding that the initiative is fraught with delays and a lack of accountability.

“We’re not going to spend any more money on it until we know it works,” Napolitano said earlier this week on Fox. “And what we're doing is moving money that had been appropriated for that technology we know our agents can use at the border right now.”

In their letter, Hutchison and Cornyn also asked Obama to instruct the military, the DEA, the FBI, and the CIA to provide them with a joint intelligence briefing regarding the ongoing violence and its potential impact on U.S. security.

Leading members of the DEA, the Justice Department, and U.S. border security agents are expected to join Clinton and Napolitano this week to meet with their Mexican counterparts.

About 18,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took power in 2006 and began an all-out war against drug cartels in his country.

Calderon has deployed 45,000 army soldiers to dangerous cities and regions throughout Mexico – including 7,000 to Juarez, where more than 4,500 people have been killed in the past two years -- but Napolitano said earlier this week that the troops have not helped thwart the violence a great deal.