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Press Conference With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano And Mexican Finance Secretary Agustin Carstens

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Subject: Bilateral Border Security Agreement

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SEC. NAPOLITANO: Thank you very much.

First, I'd like to begin by welcoming Secretary Carstens to Washington. I am very grateful for his partnership and the partnership that we all share to have a secure border but also a border that facilitates robust trade and commerce.

In the past several months, the Obama administration has announced a very strong series of initiatives to strengthen our partnership with Mexico, to combat the threats we both face in the trafficking of drugs and weapons, cash, and other contraband. I've personally traveled to Mexico twice to advance our common agenda, and today marks the next step as we move forward.

Today, we have signed an agreement that furthers our bilateral cooperation with respect to customs and trade enforcement, planning and facilitation at the border. This document is called a letter of intent. It announces our intent to update and enhance our principles, our bilateral strategic plan that was signed in 2007.

Through this process, what we hope to achieve are three major goals. One, to strengthen our enforcement cooperation. That includes, for example, a southbound strategy for checking and inspecting vehicles that are proceeding south from the United States into Mexico. It includes, for example, data-sharing and making sure that data on things like stolen cars -- that that information is shared.

And it shares also a protocol allowing us, again, to share information vis-a-vis other searches and information that is out there.

The second thing is a joint implementation plan to build capacity. What does that mean? Well, what that means is, for example, to assist Mexico in training more customs officers, to use the agenda and curricula that we use in the United States to train customs officers and to do that in Mexico, where they have just finished the training of 1,500 customs officers and will be doing even more in the future.

And the third major area under this letter of intent is to increase trade compliance and facilitation. Well, what does that mean? Well, one example is to work on a single entry form for customs purposes between the government of Mexico and the government of the United States. So, enforcement, training and documentation for legal trade are three of the major elements contained under this protocol, under this letter of intent.

These three things are added to the other areas that we have already been focusing upon, to secure our shared border: the Merida Initiative, which is being used to fund many of the items I just listed, our Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which we released, with the attorney general and with the head of ONDCP in Albuquerque a week or so ago, and our own DHS Southwest Border Action Plan, which includes border enforcement teams, border liaison officers, officers from the U.S. side, to work on a southbound strategy to stop guns and weapons from going into Mexico, and the deployment of more equipment and technology to the southwest border.

We also are working jointly on border violence protocols; how do you -- for example, as we tighten at the border, we can anticipate that there will be incidents of port running and other incidents of violence at the border. How do we jointly propose to investigate and deal with those incidents?

I want to thank Secretary Carstens for his work and for the work of his staff on these matters.

It has been a real cooperative effort. The United States is a full partner with Mexico and the Calderon administration, as we satisfy our twin goals of a secure border and a resilient border that allows legitimate trade and commerce to pass but keeps out drugs, that keeps out weapons, keeps out the cash that fuels these cartels and that makes certain that the border is safe and secure for those who live there.

So with that, let me introduce the -- Mexico's secretary of Finance, Minister Carstens, to make some remarks.

SEC. CARSTENS: Thank you.

Well, good morning, all of you. It's a great pleasure for me to be here at Homeland Security. And I greet Madame Secretary, and I thank her for all the collaborations, both the minister of Finance through the Servicio Administracion Tributaria have been having and the progress we have been making.

We met today, having Secretary Napolitano chairing the meeting, joined by key officials from both countries, to review progress on the numerous bilateral initiatives between our customs agencies.

As you know, a couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Mexico's Ministry of Finance signed a declaration of principles and a bilateral strategic plan to strengthen our cooperation in customs matters. And this was in -- just in 2007. And just for your reference, at that time it was the first type of agreement or declaration of principles ever to be written between Mexico -- or signed between Mexico and the U.S.

At that time, we created four working groups to develop and implement ambitious programs and projects, ranging from mechanisms to exchange customs data electronically to the expansion of our dedicated fast and express lanes at the common border, from training courses for personnel to the deployment of cutting-edge technologies to detect contraband and also drugs and cash and weapons, from plans also to resume business after natural or man-caused disaster to joint investigations of fraud and other illicit activities.

We have received reports on each of these initiatives. And we can gladly inform you that we have achieved remarkable progress in all of them. Today, we exchange -- (inaudible) -- electronically on many of our bilateral transactions.

On the other hand, our joint investigations have resulted in significant seizures and apprehensions in both countries. And we're enhancing our targeting capabilities.

We want to build upon these successes. And that is why we jointly decided to update and enhance our declaration of principles and bilateral strategic plan. The letter of intention we will sign today, we just signed, expresses our interest in engaging further.

We both acknowledge that we have much to assist each other and that our joint efforts will translate into a more secure and competitive North America. We have established three priorities for our customs agencies to focus. (Inaudible.)

Secretary Napolitano has gone through this already. But just to underline these key aspects, we want to strengthen our cooperation in matters of enforcement, which includes expanded joint investigations but also plans to explore the creation of bilateral port security management committees.

Second, we want to develop a plan for expanded cooperation in training. And for this, I truly want to thank Secretary Napolitano and her team, for their kind offer of providing us with technical and material assistance.

Let me be very clear, when we talk about customs modernization in Mexico. There is nothing more important in the ministry of finance than the preparation, integrity and security of its personnel. They are our most valuable assets. And therefore we certainly want to invest in it.

And third, we want to keep raising trade compliance levels and increase trade facilitation for these purposes. We have agreed today that we will explore enhanced mechanisms for the exchange of customs data and -- (inaudible) -- of our customs clearance processes.

Our deputies and key colleagues, both in the -- here in homeland security and the ministry of trade, will be working on developing this new declaration of principles.

And once it is approved both by Secretary Napolitano and myself, we will both sign again the -- this new declaration of principles, hopefully by the end of the summer. And also, we have instructed them to date and sign the -- (inaudible) -- letters of the plan according to a new declaration of principles.

Madame Secretary, this is another important step for the long- standing relationship and collaboration between our customs agencies, and also among both of our countries, under the leadership of both President Obama and President Calderon, who have really shown a keen interest in enhancing our collaborations in border matters. And this is another step in that direction.

We value very much our relationship with you, Secretary Napolitano, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and we feel very proud about it. Thank you very much.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Think we'd be happy to take questions.


Q For Secretary Agustin of Mexico. I'm going to do a question in Spanish that is very important for Mexicans on this.


Q Senor Secretario, por -- (inaudible) -- este fin de semana -- (inaudible) -- diciendo que usted -- (inaudible) -- le presento' su renuncia al President Calderon -- (inaudible) -- porque lo trata muy mal. Queremos a ver si su -- (inaudible).

SEC. CARSTENS: (Chuckles.) No, no hicia de fin, no lo dio'. Nunca lo he pensado. Estoy muy contento (hiciendo ?) mi trabajo. Y este -- y esto es lo que tengo que decir.

Q Secretario, perdon, que significa esto para Mexico -- (inaudible) -- en espanol poco en terminos de seguridad fronteriza, cual va a ser la cooperacion que -- (inaudible) -- seguir Estados Unidos -- (inaudible) -- de reducir la violencia? Gracias.

SEC. CARSTENS: Bueno, esto tiene muchas dimensiones, y son dimensiones muy importantes. La verdad es que es la primera vez que se esta articulando un plan englobadora, un plan compreensivo sobre la problematica que se enfrentando en la frontera. Y muy, in particular, en lo que tiene que ver con la interaccion de ambas, y aduanas, ?no?, y de hecho aduanas -- (inaudible) -- ayudo en una manera -- (inaudible) -- porque la organizacion de las aduanas en Mexico no es exactamente igual que las organizaciones de los aduanas en Estados Unidos.

(In Spanish.)


Q Madame Secretary.

Q Jeff Bliss from Bloomberg News. Could you explain how this expanded customs cooperation is going to change what the commercial sector sees at the border? Are we going to see fewer, more sections, less or more time at the border?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: I think one thing that you will see is more southbound inspections. Some will be done by U.S. Customs. The point of this, though, is some of this will also be done by Mexican Customs.

We are very cognizant of the fact that traffic needs to move, so one of the things we'll be watching for is what happens to the lines. And we're already watching for that where we've begun the southbound inspections.

But as we do that we -- as we bolster our efforts at that border, we achieve significant results. For example, we have -- if you look at May this year over May of last year, we've doubled the amount of currency seized already. We have seized triple the amount of firearms that we seized for the comparable period. We've seized 50 percent more drugs.

So more -- I think what people going back and forth through those ports are going to see are more southbound inspections. They're going to see more use of technology. They're going to see more installations of things like license plate readers, going through those ports.

They're going to see more canine teams, because one of the training things we're going to do with Mexico is help train more canine teams. And as you know, those teams can be trained to sniff drugs, but also bulk cash and guns and other things. So those are the kinds of things you will see.

Q A follow-up --

Q (Name inaudible) -- CNN. You may have read in The Washington Post yesterday that some critics of your proposals to change the REAL ID Act as it was passed by Congress, they say that it will weaken it.

Representative Sensenbrenner specifically said -- is quoted as saying that the new plan would still let people get licenses with fake documents, and it also points out that the ID will no longer be needed to get on aircraft and nuclear power plants and things that REAL ID was intended to do.

Do they have a point? Will this weaken national security, these changes?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Not at all. I think when the bill is dropped -- and I think the plan is to drop it today -- it is a recognition that REAL ID as originally passed was simply not being put into effect by the states. In fact, most states, to the extent they addressed it, were either slowing down their compliance or opting out of it totally.

And so what we've done, in a bipartisan way working with governors, is put together a plan that -- once dropped, I look forward to the hearings on it because I think it will actually achieve the security goals of REAL ID. It's really a refinement, if you were, of REAL ID, but in a way that the states will actually put into effect.

Q Madame Secretary, Secretary Carstens and you have not mentioned the corrosive effect of the corruption in the bodies in charge of customs in Mexico and the U.S. We know of too many cases of U.S. agents and Mexican agents involved bribed by the drug cartels. Are you doing something specifically to avoid this problem?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, let me -- first on the United States side. First of all, the vast, vast majority of United States Customs agents, Border Patrol agents, ICE, CBP, they are dedicated to their mission, and they do a very difficult job under very difficult circumstances. The physical demands at the southwest border in the summer, in particular, are high, as anyone who has been there can attest.

But we insist on and have an honest workforce. We insist on it. So, yes, when we have intel about any corruption -- and it happens rarely, but it has happened, unfortunately -- our job is to ferret that out immediately and to seek prosecution, because we will not tolerate that amongst our agents.

SEC. CARSTENS: (In Spanish.)

Q Secretary Napolitano, I just wanted to ask you whether this enhanced cooperation obviates the need to add National Guard forces to the effort along the border or whether you still feel that you need additional U.S. support down there.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: It's separate from that. The issue of using National Guard to back up our civilian law enforcement is still under consideration, so a final decision on that has yet to be made.

STAFF: Okay. One more question. Right here.

Q So Madame Secretary, in the end, do you recognize that Mexico is responsible for what enters into our country? Or is it the U.S. responsibility to guard the borders of Mexico for, you know, contraband going in?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: It's -- it's joint. That's why it's called a cooperation. That's why we're looking at how we work together. Yes, you know, there's joint responsibility going both ways. And our view is that we can either point fingers at each other or we can work together to make sure that we share a safe and secure border, a border that facilitates the billions of dollars of trade that go back and forth, but also that keeps out drugs and contraband. And that's what we are aiming to do, and that's what we're going to get done.

Thank you all very much.

SEC. CARSTENS: Thank you.


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