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WH to step up border-security effort

From NBC's Athena Jones

WASHINGTON -- The drug violence gripping Mexico is not just a Mexican problem, the Obama administration made clear Tuesday when it announced $700 million would be devoted to stepped-up border security efforts this year.

The plan, dubbed the Southwest Border Security Initiative, aims to improve screening and technology to help reduce arms smuggling and drug trafficking in border regions.

It would increase personnel and improve intelligence gathering and coordination with state, local and Mexican law enforcement officials, so that the "rule of law is upheld and enforced" in border areas, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters during a press conference that was added to the White House schedule this morning.

The secretary said she and Attorney General Eric Holder planned to visit Mexico next week to talk about security. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels there tomorrow.

"Our goal is two-fold," Napolitano said, "one is to provide assistance to the government of Mexico to break up these huge cartels which are funneling tonnage quantities of illegal drugs into our country on a regular basis and are conducting this war of violence within Mexico that has resulted in over 6,000 homicides over 550 of which were assassinations of law enforcement and public officials. The second is to guard against an increase in violence in the United States as a result of the actions undertaken in Mexico."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised today's announcement, calling it a great first step.
"What our border needs is more personnel, more assets and improved technology, so I'm encouraged by President Obama's multi-department approach that commits to doing just that along our southwest border," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "The United States must help President Calderon crack down on Mexican drug cartels in order to prevent the spillover of violence from Mexico across our border and into our state. I will continue to fight for more federal resources at our border."

Napolitano said a decision had not yet been made regarding Texas Gov. Rick Perry's request that National Guard troops be dispatched to the border but that she would be meeting with the governor to discuss the matter on Thursday. She said there had been an increase in violence between drug cartels, including kidnappings in Phoenix and Houston.

Perry reiterated his request for troops in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

"I have asked the administration for an immediate deployment of 1,000 additional National Guard troops to support civilian law enforcement and border patrol agents and remain hopeful that we will get the resources we need," the statement read in part. "The state of Texas will continue to fill in the gaps until the federal government provides adequate resources necessary to secure our border and protect our citizens from those seeking to do us harm."

Perry said the Lone Star State was spending $110 million to secure the Texas-Mexico border and that he had requested an additional $135 million from the Texas Legislature to continue border security efforts and combat transnational gangs.

The unrest in Mexico has led to growing concerns within the administration because of the potentially destabilizing effects along the countries' long, shared border.