Mexico Arrests Suspect, Reportedly a US Citizen, in Shooting of US Diplomat in Guadalajara

Posted: 3:34 pm PT
Updated: 4:30 pm PT
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Mexico’s Fiscalía General del Estado de Jalisco announced today that the suspect on Friday’s attack of a U.S. consular official from USCG Guadalajara had been arrested (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). According to the state attorney general on Twitter, the suspect was handed over to Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office .

Secretary Kerry released the following statement on January 8:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I want to thank the Government of Mexico for their swift and decisive arrest of a suspect in the heinous attack against our Foreign Service Officer colleague in Guadalajara, Mexico. The safety and security of U.S. citizens and our diplomatic staff overseas are among our highest priorities. My thoughts and prayers remain with this officer and his family during this difficult time. I wish him a speedy recovery.

The Guardian’s latest reporting on this incident cites a source within the Guadalajara police force who spoke on condition of anonymity, and identified the suspect as Zafar Zia, a 31-year-old American citizen (AmCit) of Indian origin.

The source said Zia was captured in a joint operation by the FBI, DEA and Jalisco state officials in Guadalajara’s affluent Providencia neighbourhood early on Sunday morning. The suspect had a .380 caliber pistol tucked into his waistband when he was arrested. The authorities also seized a Honda Accord with California license plates, a wig and sunglasses that may match those seen in footage of the shooting, and 16 ziplock bags containing 336 grams of a substance believed to be marijuana.

US Mission Mexico has declined to provide further information to the media about the shooting and declined to identify the employee or his position at the consulate general; information that is already widely reported in U.S. and Mexican media.

A separate news report says that the suspect had moved to Guadalajara in November 2016 from Phoenix and had been residing in the city since. The report also says that “the apparent motive for the attempted murder appears to have been a disagreement over an undisclosed visa process.” A local report confirms that the suspect has been residing in a farm in Colonia Prados Providencia for about two months. All the rooms on site were reportedly rented by students.

Consular officials have been screamed at, and spit on by rejected visa applicants, and there are obviously some very unhappy visa applicants but if this is true, this would be the first time since 2010 where an armed attack is tied to a visa office (see Three from US Consulate General Ciudad Juárez Dies in Drive-By Shooting). There was a time when all that separate a visa officer from a visa applicant is an open counter.  Easy to grab and physically attack a visa official or employee. We kind of recall that the hard line interview windows started going up in the early 80’s. Our go-to pal for this stuff told us that there were certainly incidents of client aggression and assaults in both visa and citizen services sections but believed that the interview window upgrade was just part of the larger hardline standard (i.e., putting forced-entry and ballistic protection between public areas and the general work area).

The U.S. Government has spent millions upgrading embassy security and beefing up security protection inside consular offices but this attack shows how vulnerable our people are overseas even when they are just going about the ordinary routines of daily life (going to a gym, using an ATM machine, driving a car, etc).  The latest GAO report on diplomatic security points out that the worst attacks against our diplomatic personnel actually occurs while they are in transit (see GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Efforts to Protect U.S. Diplomatic Personnel in Transit).

In any case, if true that the suspect is a U.S. citizen, a couple of thoughts: one, he would not have a need for a U.S. visa, unless it is for a fiancee/spouse or other family members of foreign origin.  We probably will hear more about this in the coming days. Two, as a U.S. citizen arrested in a foreign country, a U.S. consular officer assigned at the American Citizen Services branch in USCG Guadalajara would have to visit the suspect in jail; as U.S. consular officers do worldwide to ensure the fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas.

We should note that the U.S. and Mexico has an extradition treaty that allows for the transfer of suspected or convicted criminals from one to country to the other. So this case might yet end up in a U.S. court. Latest update from AFP says that the suspect will be deproted deported back to the United States to face further legal action.

 

Meanwhile, USMission Mexico has released a Security Message urging precautions following the shooting in Guadalajara.

Related posts:

Employees of U.S. Consulate General Monterrey (a non-danger post) face credible security threat in Mexico Apr 2016
USCG Monterrey: USG Personnel Banned From Driving Between Post-U.S. Border, Also Extortions Up by 24%
US Mission Mexico: ICE Special Agents Killed/Wounded at Fake Roadblock on Road to Monterrey
New Mexico Travel Warning: “Authorized Departure” remains in place for Mexico’s northern border cities, Monterrey to go partially unaccompanied with no minor dependents
US ConGen Monterrey in Mexico Goes Unaccompanied
US Consulate General Monterrey personnel urged to keep kids at home following American School Shootout
Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay
New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status
Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico
Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)
Mexican Border Consular Posts Get 15% Danger Pay
Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …
State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts

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Two Mexicans Extradited in the 2011 Murder and Attempted Murder of ICE Agents in Mexico

Posted: 12:03 am ET
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In 2011, we blogged about this case here:  US Mission Mexico: ICE Special Agents Killed/Wounded at Fake Roadblock on Road to Monterrey$5 Million Reward for Information Re: Shootings of Two ICE Agents in Mexico and “Fast and Furious” gun killed ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico?

On May 16, 2016, USDOJ announced that two Mexican nationals have been extradited from Mexico to face charges for their alleged participation in the murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jaime Zapata and the attempted murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila on Feb. 15, 2011, in Mexico.

The charges and extraditions were announced today by Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia, Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division and Director Sarah R. Saldaña of ICE.

Jesus Ivan Quezada Piña, aka Loco, 28, and Alfredo Gaston Mendoza Hernandez, aka Camaron, aka Burger, 33, both of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, were charged on May 16, 2013, in a four-count indictment with murder of an officer or employee of the United States; attempted murder of an officer or employee of the United States; attempted murder of an internationally protected person; and using, carrying, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.  The indictment was unsealed today when Quezada Piña and Mendoza Hernandez made their initial appearances before Senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia.  Quezada Piña and Mendoza Hernandez were ordered detained without bail.

Four defendants—Julian Zapata Espinoza, aka Piolin, 35; Ruben Dario Venegas Rivera, aka Catracho, 28; Jose Ismael Nava Villagran, aka Cacho, 33; and Francisco Carbajal Flores, aka Dalmata, 41—previously pleaded guilty to offenses based on their roles in the murder and attempted murder of the ICE agents.  As part of their guilty pleas, Espinoza, Rivera and Villagran admitted that they participated directly in the Feb. 15, 2011, ambush of the two special agents as part of a Los Zetas hit squad.  The fourth defendant, Flores, acknowledged assisting Zetas members after the attack.  A fifth defendant, Jose Emanuel Garcia Sota, aka Juan Manuel Maldonado Amezcua, aka Safado, 35, was extradited to the United States on Oct. 1, 2015, for his participation in this attack and is currently awaiting trial.

The charges and allegations in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The FBI is investigating the case with substantial assistance from ICE, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and the U.S. Marshals Service.  The investigation was also coordinated with the assistance of the Government of Mexico.

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Secretary Kerry Swears-In Roberta Jacobson, the New U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

Posted: 12:02 am ET
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The Back Room Deals That Got Roberta Jacobson Confirmed to be Ambassador to Mexico

Posted: 9:22 am PT
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According to WaPo, it took weeks of complex backroom dealing involving two key senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, former rivals in the Republican presidential primaries to end their hold on the Jacobson nomination.

As part of the deal, the State Department will have to produce 40 new reports a year on issues as diverse as Hong Kong autonomy, religious freedom and anti-Semitism. Government officials in Venezuela will face three more years of sanctions.

Security upgrades at U.S. embassies around the world will be mandated, including in war-torn countries such as Syria and Yemen, where there is no U.S. diplomatic presence now. U.S. diplomats at the United Nations will have to work to end sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers. And there will be a new push in Congress to rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington for a prominent Chinese dissident.

Basically, the WH got a deal to get an ambassador to Mexico whose entire tenure will be shorter than the length of her 11-month confirmation wait. If she gets to Mexico this month, that will give the new ambassador barely six months to settle in Mexico City and just in time to cast her vote as an overseas voter in the 2017 presidential election. Like all presidential appointees, she will be obligated to tender her resignation on the golden hours between the election of a new president in November 2016 and when the new president is sworn into office in January 2017.

The resignations of career appointees to chiefs of mission positions are traditionally declined by the incoming administration whereas resignations of political and noncareer ambassadors are typically almost always accepted. Ms. Jacobson is a career civil servant at the State Department but is not a member of the career Foreign Service, and therefore considered a noncareer appointee. If there is a Trump WH — gosh, who knows how will ambassadorial appointments blow up —  in all likelihood, noncareer appointees will be replaced with Trump’s noncareer appointees.  If there is a Clinton WH, the new ambassador may be allowed to stay on like the rest of the career appointees already appointed worldwide but it’s worth noting that the Clinton world will definitely have a lengthy ambo wish list from supporters and bundlers.

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Related posts:

 

 

Senate Finally Confirms Roberta Jacobson as New Ambassador to Mexico

Posted:9:44 pm ET
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So the senator with some serious grrrrrr over the administration’s Cuba policy finally relented on President Obama’s ambassador pick for Mexico.  On April 28, Roberta Jacobson was confirmed by voice vote after a wait of almost a year.

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SFRC Clears Roberta Jacobson’s Nomination as US Ambassador to Mexico, Roadblocks Remain

Posted: 1:35 am EDT
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According
to the Dallas Morning News, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to advance the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to be the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico on Tuesday:

The vote was 12-7 in favor of Jacobson and drew support from Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and all but one of the panel’s Democrats. Also voting in favor were Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Cory Gardner or Colorado and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. and a former chairman of the committee, voted no. So did Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a 2016 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Her nomination will now go to the full Senate for a vote, but there is no guarantee if/when that vote will happen.  Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas told Dallas Morning News that “The most significant obstacle to her nomination is time,” he said, noting the “procedural hoops that will have to be navigated in the absence of some sort of [unanimous] agreement.”

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Snapshot: Consular Staffing Levels in Brazil & China — FY 2011 to 2014

Posted: 12:41 pm EDT
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Via GAO

According to State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the past hiring of additional staff through various authorities and temporary assignments of consular officers during periods of high NIV demand contributed to meeting E.O. 13597’s goals of expanding NIV processing capacity and reducing worldwide wait times, particularly at U.S. posts in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.16

• Increase in consular officers: According to State officials, from fiscal year 2012 through 2014, State “surged” the number of consular officers deployed worldwide from 1,636 to 1,883 to help address increasing demand for NIVs, an increase of 15 percent over 3 years. In response to E.O. 13597, State increased the number of deployed consular officers between January 19, 2012 (the date of E.O. 13597), and January 19, 2013, from 50 to 111 in Brazil, and 103 to 150 in China, a 122 and 46 percent increase, respectively (see fig. 2 for additional information on consular staffing increases in Brazil and China). As a result, State met its goal of increasing its NIV processing capacity in Brazil and China by 40 percent within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27

• Limited noncareer appointments: In fiscal year 2012, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs launched the limited noncareer appointment (LNA) pilot program to quickly deploy language-qualified staff to posts facing an increase in NIV demand and workload. The first cohort of LNAs—who are hired on a temporary basis for up to 5 years for specific, time-bound purposes—included 19 Portuguese speakers for Brazil and 24 Mandarin speakers for China who were part of the increased number of consular officers deployed to posts noted above. In fiscal year 2013, State expanded the LNA program to include Spanish speakers. As of August 2015, State had hired 95 LNAs for Brazil, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico.

• Temporary assignment of consular officers: State utilizes the temporary redeployment of Foreign Service officers and LNAs to address staffing gaps and increases in NIV demand. Between October 2011 and July 2012, State assigned, on temporary duty, 220 consular officers to Brazil and 48 consular officers to China as part of its effort to reallocate resources to posts experiencing high NIV demand. State continues to use this method to respond to increases in NIV demand. For example, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, India experienced a surge in NIV demand that pushed NIV interview wait times over 21 days at three posts. To alleviate the situation, consular managers in India sent officers to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, which was experiencing higher wait times, from other posts, allowing the U.S. Mission in India to reduce average wait times to approximately 10 days by the end of December 2014.

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US Mission Mexico Issues Emergency Message on Hurricane Patricia

Posted: 3:12 pm PDT
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US Mission Mexico issued an emergency message for U.S. citizens in the country on October 23, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. concerning Hurricane Patricia.  It is expected to make landfall as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane.  Patricia is also expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 8-12 inches which could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides. Excerpt from the announcement below:

Hurricane Patricia is now being classified as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, and is expected to make landfall on Friday, October 23, 2015, along the coast of Michoacan, Colima (which includes Manzanillo), Jalisco (which includes Puerto Vallarta),and/or Nayarit.  It is now considered one of the most powerful and dangerous hurricanes in recorded history.  If you are in the hurricane warning area, make preparations immediately to protect life and property.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an updated Hurricane Warning for the Pacific Coast of Mexico from San Blas, Nayarit, to Punta San Telmo, Michoacan (see http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/?epac).   A hurricane watch is in effect for east of Punta San Telmo to Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan.  A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for east of Punta San Telmo to Lazaro Cardenas and north of San Blas to El Roblito, Nayarit.

The center of Hurricane Patricia is expected to make landfall in the hurricane warning area Friday afternoon or evening.  Hurricane Patricia is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches, over the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero starting today into Saturday, October 24.  These rains could produce life-threatening flash floods, mud slides (especially in areas of mountainous terrain), and high winds up to 200 MPH that could result in downed power lines. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles. A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding, accompanied by large and destructive waves.  Swells may cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.  As Hurricane Patricia moves inland, it will continue to produce heavy rainfall, wind, and dangerous conditions.  Persons located inland in the path of Hurricane Patricia should take appropriate measures to ensure their safety, particularly those located in areas prone to flooding or mudslides. NOAA recommends that residents in low-lying areas near the coast in the hurricane warning area evacuate immediately.

We strongly encourage you to monitor media reports and the Mexican government’s civil protection (“Protección Civil”) website, http://www.proteccioncivil.gob.mx, for updated information about the storm and to follow official instructions.  Stay clear of beaches, as rough seas associated with storm conditions create severe hazards.  Stay clear of downed power lines.  Take precautions against the effects of rain, strong winds, and large and destructive waves. We strongly encourage you to take shelter as advised by Mexican authorities or at any time you feel you are in danger.

Read more here.

image from noaa.gov

image from noaa.gov

Periodic updates are also available on the websites for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara.

You may alert the embassy to U.S. citizens affected by the storm, by sending an email to PatriciaEmergencyUSC@state.gov or CDJPatriciaTF@state.gov and providing as much information as possible.  You can also use the following contact numbers

  • +52-656-227-3105 (From Mexico),
  • 1-888-407-4747 (From the United States and Canada),
  • +1-202-501-4444 (From all other countries)

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Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico

Posted: 3:37 am EDT
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Gregory Starr, State’s assistant secretary at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said in towns like Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — which borders Laredo, Texas — danger pay is not warranted. While U.S. federal employees are prohibited from leaving consulate grounds in the town that recently did away with its local police force, Starr said the workers can easily “walk across the border and be in a Walmart or a Dairy Queen.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, said that convenience would do little to appease family members of Foreign Service officers stationed in the town.

“Shame on you for saying that,” Chaffetz said. “It’s so dangerous they can’t even go outside.” He added employees facing decreased pay should not blame Republicans or funding shortfalls: “You can look at the Obama administration.”

Chaffetz said the cuts were “not useful” and would damage morale, noting the problem fell with State’s management. Starr maintained the department was “not having trouble staffing” the positions in the Mexican towns, and noted employees in some areas of the country would receive a pay bump.

Danger pay is generally used for areas with “civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee,” according to federal statute.

There are about 2,800 State employees in Mexico, but the number involved in areas with crime is “minimal,” according to the department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Sue Saarino. She said in some areas employees are told to stay off the street at night, but “we think it’s manageable.”

The HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe was held on September 9.

The video is here, if you have the interest to watch it:

Back in February, we blogged about the expected changes in danger pay (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). We were under the impression that congressional interest was driving these changes.

Danger Pay

During the hearing, we learned that the State Department has indeed changed its danger and hardship pay incentives. The example cited during the hearing is Matamoros which reportedly gets a 5% bump in danger pay, with Tijuana and Nueno Laredo seeing a reduction of 5% respectively.  DS Starr said that Nuevo Laredo is more safe now than it has been and that the violence in the Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo are not directed at our people. Also those assigned in Mexico can cross into the United States, whereas those assigned in Mali or Chad, for instance, do not have that option.

In fact, according to the State Department’s Allowances Office, only Ciudad Juarez has been able to keep its danger pay differential, currently at 15% as of the September 6 update.  When we last posted about this in February, Nogales was at 10%, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15% and Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey were at 20%.  With the exception of Ciudad Juaraez, all have lost their danger pay differential.  The representative from WHA says that the staff knew what they were getting into, knew the dangers, and that the allowances can change anytime.

Staffing MX posts

DS says that the incentives are generally reviewed once a year, and that State has had no problem staffing the Mexican posts.  Is that true? Of course, he did not say that part of the reason there is no problem with staffing the Mexican posts is that most jobs there are filled by entry level officers whose assignments are “directed” by State. They do not have the option to decline those assignments. How about the mid-level and senior staffing, any gaps there? How many excursion tours  are offered to Civil Servants to fill those gaps?

Security and Local Guards

DS A/S Starr in response to a query also admitted that there were six times more security incidents in Matamoros in February than the previous month.

Mr. Chaffetz railed that State is talking about training the police force but that there is no police force in Nuevo Laredo.  DS acknowledged that the local police is not functioning but that it cooperates with federal and state authorities in Mexico.

The same congressman was not happy that the local guards are only paid $316/month. DS explained that this is the prevailing wage. The congressman still wasn’t happy. We get the sense that if those local guards were paid 3x the Mexican prevailing wage, the congressman would be railing that the guards are overpaid. This has an easy fix, of course. One, Congress could allow the State Department to issue the local guard contracts base on best value instead of lowest price. That means the guards protecting our U.S. mission overseas are paid good wages not based on the lowest price the contractors can get away with.  Or, if that’s not acceptable, Congress could fund U.S. citizen private security guards to protect all our 275 missions overseas. But that won’t come cheap and we suspect Congress would  not be up for that.

Close the Consulates

Another congressman, Mr. Mica, called for closing all our consulates in Mexico.  We laughed out loud watching the video. No one else laughed.

“There has to be consequences. How many consulates do we have? I count about nine in Mexico. Is that right? I think we should close every one of those consulates immediately. Put the properties up for sale,” Mica said. “I think you have to have consequences for actions. The place is out of control.”

Mr. Cartwright picked-up Mr. Mica’s idea and asked the DHS/CBP and AFGE representatives how would closure of these consulates cut down the violence.  The witnesses were restrained in their response.

Travel Warnings

Mr. Hurd, the former undercover CIA officer who is now representing Texas’s 23rd congressional district complained that Mexico is treated like one place and it’s not. He said that 80% of violence occurs in 20% of the country and wanted to see the Travel Warning reflective of that. Mr. Hurd did talk a lot but he is probably the only one in that panel who previously served with members of the Foreign Service overseas.

I got as far as Mr. Hurd, then I finally had to give up. Did I miss a lot?

Our congressional representatives appeared to be easily distracted and jumped from one topic to the next. In most cases, they seemed to enjoy hearing themselves talk rather than listen to their witnesses. Which makes me wonder if they were really interested in the answers … why bother with hearings if minds are already made up?

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HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT
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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on September 9, to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Committee notes on its introduction the risks posed to U.S. personnel and the public by the criminal violence in northern Mexico are numerous including:

  • February 2015the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reported 227 separate security incidents in the U.S. border region.
  • May 2015two government buildings in Matamoros were struck by bomb attacks. 
  • June 2015a gunman on the Mexican side of the border fired multiple shots at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. 
  • June 2015a U.S.-contracted vehicle was hijacked by armed criminals which resulted in the theft of over 11,500 Border Crossing Cards.

The video is available here. The witnesses include three officials from the State Department (DS, OBO, WHA), an official from DHS/CBP, and a representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  There is no representative from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) in this hearing.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09

U.S. Mission Mexico | Border Posts

William H. Moser Deputy Director, Bureau of Overseas Building Operations U.S. Department of State Document
Gregory B. Starr Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security U.S. Department of State Document
Sue Saarnio Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs U.S. Department of State Document
Robert L. Harris Director, Joint Task Force – West U.S. Customs and Border Protection Document
Brandon Judd President, National Border Patrol Council American Federation of Government Employees Document

The hearing is also available here via C-SPAN.

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