U.S. Targets Canadian Border in Drug Smuggling Crackdown

The Obama administration is strengthening efforts to intercept and to break up drug rings smuggling narcotics across the Canada-U.S. border under an agreement announced Thursday that will see a sharp increase in the number of immigration and customs agents conducting raids and making arrests.

Under the deal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have the power to authorize an unlimited number of agents to investigate cross-border drug crimes.

While aimed primarily at helping the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration address the overwhelming challenge of fighting Mexican drug cartels along the country’s southwest border, administration officials made it clear they also will be watching the Canada-U.S. boundary.

“Stay tuned. You are going to see a lot more activity out of the DEA and ICE,” said John Morton, the assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“This is a national effort. And from ICE’s perspective, we are going to be paying attention to the northern border, and also to our air and maritime ports as well.”

The agreement reached Thursday is designed to end decades of turf wars between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Immigration and Customs agents over who has the power to investigate drug trafficking at the country’s borders and ports of entry.

Until now, Immigration and Customs could authorize only 1,475 of its roughly 6,500 agents to investigate drug cases at any given time. Immigration and Customs officials have long claimed the limit severely hampered their efforts to break up drug-trafficking operations, particularly on the southern border.

“I think everybody, now, with the situation with the Mexican drug cartels and their impact on our country, everybody sees the significance of agencies working together in a co-ordinated, systematic, surgical way,” said Michele Leonhart, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The new deal gives Homeland Security the sole discretion to designate as many immigration and customs agents as it needs to take on drug smuggling. ICE agents also will now be able to conduct foreign drug investigations in co-operation with the DEA.

Morton refused to say how many more agents would be conducting drug operations along the Canada-U.S. border, or the boundary with Mexico.

“It will be something short of every agent.”

But officials pointed to two recent drug busts along the Canadian border as examples of the type of large-scale operations that can be expected in the coming months and years.

On Wednesday, Immigrations and Customs agents in Buffalo, N.Y. arrested 19 people alleged to be involved in smuggling Canadian-made ecstasy pills across the International Peace Bridge. ICE agents said the international bridges in Buffalo and Niagara Falls had become major — and growing — trafficking routes.

“I think it highlights the kinds of cases we will continue to see,” Morton said. “I have absolutely no intention of simply focusing on the southern border.”

In February, the DEA concluded Operation Accelerator, which produced 750 arrests following an investigation that involved narcotics trafficking and money-laundering in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The case targeted Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel and led to confiscation of 1.3 million ecstasy pills, 550 kilos of methamphetamine and 12,000 kilos of cocaine.

Co-operation between the DEA, ICE and the FBI allowed U.S. authorities to “connect the dots” on more than 160 separate cases, Leonhart said.

“A good piece of that operation had to do with Canada and the northern border,” she said.

“We are going to be able to do more big operations, sweeping operations (following Thursday’s agreement) . . . because we will have more information to connect the dots.”

U.S. officials said the expanded authority for immigration agents would not affect inspections carried out by the Border Patrol at Canada-U.S. crossings.

It emerged last week that the Border Patrol is preparing to send 700 additional agents to patrol that Canada-U.S. border, an almost 50 per cent increase over current levels.

– Article from Canwest News.