[H2]More agents will be able to fight drugs[/H2]
View attachment 9135 More federal agents will be able to investigate drug cases under a new agreement between government agencies battling Mexican cartels, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Wednesday.
Under a new deal aimed at settling a long-running turf dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration, more agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would get authority to investigate drug cases.
The new agreement is a victory for ICE, which has long chafed at restrictions on how and when it conducts drug investigations.
It also shows the Obama administration's willingness to change long-established law enforcement procedures to aid the fight against the powerful and violent drug cartels operating within Mexico.
The agreement would remove the current cap on the number of ICE agents who can conduct drug investigations, and from now on ICE agents will be able to conduct foreign drug investigations in coordination with the DEA, according to officials familiar with the agreement.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been announced.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Holder told Sen. Charles Schumer an announcement was imminent on a new agreement between the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Holder said he had discussed the matter the night before with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Currently, only some ICE agents have what is called Title 21 authority. The agency has tried for years to expand the number of Title 21 authorized agents through negotiations with the drug enforcement agency. The most recent agreement was in 1994, according to a March report by the Government Accountability Office.
Since then, there have been constant disputes over what authority the agreement gives ICE agents. The current agreement allows for 1,475 of more than 6,000 ICE agents to have these investigative authorities at one time, but ICE officials contend that is not enough.
Officials said the new agreement would remove that cap, but that doesn't automatically mean that all ICE agents would have the new drug investigation authority.
Napolitano said in a statement only that she was "very optimistic" an agreement would be reached soon.
The new agreement is good for local law enforcement as well, said Leonard Miranda, head of the investigations division at the Chula Vista Police Department in southern California.
Miranda said the locals are often caught between ICE and DEA turf conflicts. Miranda said the new coordination will lead to more effective prosecutions. "It's an efficiency thing," he said.
The pending deal also won praise from lawmakers.
"Right now, we have at least three separate agencies, all with different missions, trying to handle border enforcement," Schumer said. "The cartels that smuggle drugs and illegal immigrants have integrated their activities, and now the federal agencies will have a better integrated response."
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the agreement "will allow ICE to play a larger role in drug investigations and make available thousands of special agents to combat the drug cartels along our borders."
On the Net:
Drug Enforcement Administration: http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/index.htm
Immigration and Customs Enforcement: http://www.ice.gov/
WASHINGTON (AP) June 17, 2009
By DEVLIN BARRETT and EILEEN SULLIVAN