Mexico Upgrades Its Border Agents While US Looks for Cash

Mexico working to disarm dismissed guards

Mexico has replaced all 700 of its customs inspectors with agents newly trained to fight drug smuggling, sending soldiers to airports and border crossings across the country to take back the guns issued to old inspectors.

The 700 inspectors were replaced with 1,400 newly hired agents who have undergone months of training and background checks to ensure they have no criminal records.

Meanwhile, the U.S. promised more money Tuesday to help increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border. California could get more than $7 million of a proposed $30 million increase.

But the millions promised in June to help place National Guard troops along the border has been held up by political haggling over who will foot the bill.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday at a conference in El Paso, Texas that  $30 million will fund the Operation Stonegarden program to fight border violence in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. That's in addition to $60 million announced in June.

An aide says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is still waiting for a response to his request for 1,000 more troops.

The funding stalemate lingers even after Obama renewed his commitment to Mexican officials on Monday to reinforce the border and to help battle the drug cartels.

The Department of Homeland Security, which expects to get roughly $44 billion in its overall 2010 budget compared to the Pentagon's $636 billion -- is also reluctant to bear the costs of the proposed program.

Military officials have also balked at having a highly visible uniformed presence at border crossings.

One administration official said an initial Pentagon draft was nixed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates because it suggested that Guard troops could be used to help screen commercial vehicles at the border.

Defense leaders have been insistent that the U.S. avoid any appearance of militarizing the border, and they are opposed to using the soldiers at border entry points to openly inspect vehicles.

Pentagon officials have grumbled that the latest demands come as the U.S. is still fighting two wars, including an escalation of fighting in Afghanistan, and the Guard units are still needed to take on some of the battlefield duties.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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