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White House Officials Visit Border, But What's The Plan?

Homeland Security officials will arrive in Nogales Thursday to unfold their plans for a new program to stem drug trafficking in the Southwest and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Some law enforcement experts are doubtful the visit will produce any new ideas.

Department of Homeland Security ( DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano will be accompanied by other senior White House officials on her trip. Officials only said she’s here to announce a new counter-narcotics strategy.

Tony Coulson is the former Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA) agent in charge of Tucson and Nogales. He’s not expecting many fresh ideas from the announcement.

“I would hope it’s a listening session with state and local law enforcement, with communities that are impacted by both human and drug trafficking issues,” Coulson said. “And that there would be a consideration of inclusion of those domains into a strategy that would assist the border communities.”

Coulson added: "But coming to announce a strategy; I don't know where the community involvement has been to support that."

The ex-agent said the administration has not released one of the public reports that would support the claim that the border is secure.

The Drug Threat Assessment is a breakdown of narcotic prices. In past years, it’s shown that drugs arriving in the U.S. were cheap and plentiful. That’s counter to the message that the border is under control.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, the assessment, prepared by the National Drug Intelligence Center, showed that marijuana and methamphetamine street prices in the U.S. were lower than in previous years.

“And I don’t think they’ll ever release it because the numbers are bad,” Coulson said.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada hopes to convince Washington of the need for more agents at the Nogales ports of entry. He said he’s optimistic that senior officials are dropping in.

“I think more of them should come down here and really take a look at the border and oversee the border; the remote areas. Look at it,” Estrada said. “This is a border that is a challenge.”

It remains to be seen whether Napolitano will address the absence of narcotics data or other issues that have overshadowed border successes, like the Phoenix “ Fast and Furious” gun running scandal. In that case, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ( ATF) is accused of allowing gun buyers to smuggle weapons into Mexico.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.