Justice Department to combat crime on U.S.-Mexico border

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. is dispatching federal agents to Texas to combat violent crime along the Mexican border, a source of tension between the two countries in recent months.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the issue would be the focus of his meeting in San Antonio on Thursday with his Mexican counterpart, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca.

The Violent Crime Impact Team will go to the border city of Laredo, Gonzales told reporters Wednesday at the Justice Department. Such teams previously have been sent to about 20 U.S. cities that are struggling with violent crime problems despite a dropping U.S. crime rate.

The teams typically include agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; FBI; and Drug Enforcement Administration. A Justice Department prosecutor handles cases of those charged.

Investigators focus on prosecuting people for firearms violations, which often accompany gang activity, illegal drug organizations and organized crime groups.

Gonzales said border violence is “something the president has expressed to me concerns about.”

In August, U.S. and Mexican officials traded accusations over who is to blame for problems in border security.

U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said he closed the American consulate in Nuevo Laredo, just over the border from Laredo, partly to punish the Mexican government for not stopping violence there. The closure followed dozens of drug-related killings, the assassination of the police chief and a city councilman, and a machine-gun, grenade and rocket attack on an alleged drug safe house.

Mexican president Vicente Fox has said the problems are not just Mexico’s. “On that side and this side there is organized crime. On that side and this side there is drug consumption,” Fox said at the time.