WASHINGTON — President Obama weighed in Wednesday on the escalating drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that he was looking at possibly deploying National Guard troops to contain the violence but ruled out any immediate military move.
"We're going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense," Obama said during an interview with journalists for regional papers, including a McClatchy reporter.
"I don't have a particular tipping point in mind," he said. "I think it's unacceptable if you've got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens."
Already this year there have been 1,000 people killed in Mexico along the border, following 2008's death toll of 5,800, according to federal officials who credit Mexican President Felipe Calderon for a crackdown on drug cartels.
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But the spillover on the border -- for example, to El Paso from neighboring Ciudad Juarez -- has created a political reaction.
In a recent visit to El Paso, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for 1,000 troops to protect the border.
Obama was cautious, however. "We've got a very big border with Mexico," he said. "I'm not interested in militarizing the border."
The president praised Calderon, "who I believe is really working hard and taking some extraordinary risks under extraordinary pressure to deal with the drug cartels and the corresponding violence that's erupted along the borders."
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., chair of a key subcommittee on border security, will hold a hearing Thursday on Mexican border violence.
"Last week Mexico sent an additional 3,200 soldiers to the border," Sanchez said in a prepared opening statement for the hearing, "increasing the total number of Mexican soldiers combating drug cartels to more than 45,000."
Sanchez chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security's subcommittee on border, maritime and global counterterrorism.
"It should be noted that over 200 U.S. citizens have been killed in this drug war, either because they were involved in the cartels or were innocent bystanders," she said. "With those concerns in mind, it is essential that the Department of Homeland Security, along with other relevant departments, continue to pursue a contingency plan to address 'spillover' violence along our border."
At a hearing this week, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who visited Mexico last month as part of a congressional delegation tour, praised the so-called Merida Initiative -- a drug cartel fighting agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that provides Mexico with $1.4 billion to control drug trafficking.
"From helicopters and surveillance planes to non-intrusive inspection equipment, the U.S. investment is intended to provide the hardware necessary for the Mexican government to extend its authority to those remote and hard-to-access parts of the country ravaged by the drug trade," said Granger.
That agreement between Calderon and President George W. Bush will be updated, Obama said.
"We expect to have a comprehensive approach to dealing with these issues of border security that will involve supporting Calderon and his efforts in a partnership, also making sure we are dealing with the flow of drug money and guns south, because it's really a two-way situation there," said Obama.
"The drugs are coming north, we're sending funds and guns south," he said. "As a consequence, these cartels have gained extraordinary power. Our expectation is to have a comprehensive policy in place in the next few months."
(David Goldstein of the Kansas City Star contributed.)
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