As American border states call for National Guardsmen to protect their borders with Mexico, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official outlined yesterday the still-evolving contingency plans if the trickle of violence from Mexico's drug war starts to gush over America's border.
In his statement for the record, Roger Rufe, director of operations and contingency planning for DHS, outlined the four phases of the border contingency plan formulated under the previous DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff.
The first phase of the Southwest Border Violence Operations Plan, according to Rufe, is the current state of operations today, which he referred to as "steady state." Customs and Border Protection (CBP) maintains contacts with the U.S. intelligence community as well as local, state, and federal partners to maintain "situational awareness" while CBP leaders at the border continue their normal routine.
The level of violence that would kickstart Phase 2, however, remains murky.
"Phase 2 addresses DHS response requirements for an escalation of violence along the SWB that is beyond steady-state, but does not warrant a full Federal response," Rufe said.
Phase 2, he noted, is also subdivided into two additional parts depending on intelligence reports or the level of violence. Lower-levels of violence would be handled exclusively by CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Coast Guard, but if the violence challenged these agencies' response but did not necessitate a full federal response, it would trigger a full DHS response.
"In the event that DHS resources are unable to effectively respond to the situation—or if special response capabilities are required that are not organic to DHS—the Secretary, under the authority granted by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and HSPD-5, will initiate and coordinate the strategic operations of a full Federal response in Phase 3," Rufe told lawmakers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Phase 3 could include National Guardsmen deployed to the borders, and possibly the Army if the violence hit a critical mass.
But that would be a last resort, Rufe said.
"We would take all resources short of [Department of Defense] and National Guard troops before we reach that tipping point," he said. "We very much do not want to militarize our border."
He also added that "While the federal response to a significant escalation in violence may proceed in stages, nothing prevents the president, the attorney general or the DHS secretary, from immediately initiating a higher level response at any time."
Phase 4 would demobilize any additional assets called upon past Phase 1, but Rufe said demobilization could take some time depending on the damage done.
Fears of a militarized American border are being driven by Mexican President Felipe Calderon's two-year offensive against his country's drug cartels. Approximately 6,000 lost their lives in the spiraling conflict last year, more than doubling the previous year's record.
Already, the fears of violence have led states to call for National Guardsmen to help bolster border security.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has asked the federal government to send 250 National Guard reserve troops to help the 150 already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has asked for 1,000 National Guard troops.
The BBC also reports that U.S. officials say that Mexican drug cartel tentacles already stretch into 230 American cities, with Phoenix, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia; and Birmingham, Alabama, among the hardest hit.