It was a routine stop at the bridge at the Laredo, Texas, border, as an Oklahoma man in a pickup truck was attempting to cross over into Mexico. But a vehicle inspection unveiled much more, as CBP officers discovered a cache of 22 rifles, two shotguns, a 9 mm pistol, ammunition and other weapons parts hidden in the truck.
A subsequent ICE investigation of that failed smuggling attempt led agents to the residence of a former firearms dealer where nearly 1,000 weapons were discovered, along with a large store of ammunition and $30,000 in cash. That routine stop at the Laredo bridge resulted in unraveling a sizable cross-border gun smuggling operation.
It’s exactly the type of investigation that the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) initiative was set up to tackle. This partnership initiative, led at DHS by ICE, brings together federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies under a shared umbrella with a common goal: To target cross-border crime and associated violence.
With collaboration from CBP, the BEST initiative is the Department of Homeland Security’s response to the increase in violence at the southwest border, where the activities of drug cartels, weapons traffickers and other criminal organizations are taking a toll on communities all along the border.
What is most innovative about the BEST initiative is the way in which it brings law enforcement partners together under one roof with a shared mission. This allows for closer working relationships, more efficient communication and improved coordination among the various entities. Cooperation is key to the success of the BEST initiative.
There are now 15 BEST forces operating on the southern and northern U.S. borders, and they’re getting outstanding results. And right now, from August 11 to 13, 2009, we’re taking a closer look at the progress that has been made, as well as plans for the future, at the BEST Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
This conference, the second of its kind, brings together federal law enforcement officials from a variety of agencies; state and local officials; members of Congress and other elected officials; and our partners from Mexico, Canada, Columbia, and Argentina to discuss the challenges of combating the drug trade, money laundering, gang activity, arms trafficking, human smuggling and other types of cross-border crime.
As assistant secretary for ICE, I am at the conference, meeting with our partners in this successful law enforcement venture—and exploring ways in which we can strengthen these partnerships in order to crack down on criminal activity and tighten security at the borders. I’ll post a wrap-up after the conferences concludes.
John Morton is the Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement