Locals, Feds Prepare for Any Escalation of Mexican Border Violence

The White House is expected to release its comprehensive border security strategy within days, at a time when violence along the U.S.-Mexican border has become a top priority for law enforcement and Homeland Security officials.

The comprehensive border plan is currently being reviewed at the top levels of President Barack Obama's administration, and Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano told reporters today that contingency plans to confront further escalations of border violence, which would include deploying additional federal assets, are under review by state and local officials from border states.

"There has been, in this department, a contingency plan should we see a great spike in border-related violence as a result of what is going on with the drug cartels in Mexico." Napolitano said. "That plan was prepared but did not have input from the state and local law enforcement officials who actually police the border area."

Napolitano said that she and DHS officials have set up calls with local law enforcement in border areas to gain a better view of the current situation.

"We've been talking and have regular calls set with those border police chiefs and sheriffs," Napolitano said. "They can really tell us, 'We can't really handle this. We now need a larger federal contingent to back us up.'"

Napolitano added that recently some of her top staff had been deployed to areas along the border to assess the situation as part of the review.

"There is a big safety interest for the United States in this battle being conducted in northern Mexico or the United States," Napolitano said. "We're not to the worst-case scenario."

Additional ICE and ATF agents are expected to be deployed as part of the border plans, but Napolitano declined to offer specifics while the final review is under way.

Guns: Napolitano Against Assault Weapons Ban

Early next month, both Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to Mexico to participate in a weapons trafficking conference.

Today, Napolitano brushed off speculation that the Obama administration may seek a new version of the assault weapons ban, which Holder had suggested last month.

"There are existing laws that can be used to prosecute these gun crimes in the United States, particularly if you are selling to someone who is a straw purchaser; there are patterns of illegal gun sales," Napolitano said. "There's lots you can do on the investigation and prosecution side under the existing laws."

Last week, the acting commissioner of customs and border protection, Jayson Ahern, said that there were considerable heavy weapons being used along the border as the violence has escalated.

"There's a lot more military grade that are coming in from other sources," Ahern said. "We need to make a better definition [of the kind of guns] so there is not the assumption they are all coming from here."

Napolitano said that there could be more robust inspections for southbound traffic into Mexico to look for guns and cash heading south -- including gun tracings and high technology advanced screening approaches, such as license plate recognition scans and weighing vehicles against their manufactured curb weight.

In one week last month, customs intercepted 997 guns at the border, Napolitano said, and on Wednesday U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted $300,000 in a car's spare tire headed into Mexico.

Hurricane Response

In her time with reporters today, Napolitano said she is beginning to look ahead to hurricane season and that she had dispatched some of her senior advisers to New Orleans to review the process to assist with rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast.

Next week, Napolitano also will be traveling to Port Arthur, Texas and Galveston, Texas to review the recovery from Hurricane Ike.

Napolitano, who has served as DHS secretary for two months, summed up her time so far saying, "I kind of like the battle rhythm of the job so far."