The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday said immigration officials are working closely with Mexican authorities to investigate a series of stunning attacks in Mexico including a car bomb in the border city of Juarez that has drawn comparisons to Middle Eastern terrorism.
While the Obama administration rolls out its plan to deploy 1,200 National Guard and other assets to the southwestern border, the violence in northern Mexico has only escalated in recent weeks.
Eighteen people were massacred at a party in the city of Torreon on Sunday -- more than a month after 19 people were killed at a drug-rehab center in Chihuahua. In the border city of Juarez, where more than 1,500 have been killed this year, a car bomb apparently designed to lure police to the scene killed three people on Thursday.
"The incident in Juarez ... is one of great concern to both governments," CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin said Monday.
The use of a car bomb would mark a new tactic for the cartels in the war against the state that has played out in full force since President Felipe Calderon confronted them after taking office in 2006. According to reports, the device was remotely detonated in a way similar to the detonation of IEDs in the Middle East.
Bersin was cautious in assessing what the attack would mean for how authorities approach the fight against the cartels, but said the matter is under investigation. He insisted that the U.S. side of the border is more secure than it's ever been.
"This latest incident is one in a long string of violent incidents. The precise nature of it is one that we need to work with our Mexican colleagues and counterparts and discover exactly what it was and what implications it may have," he said.
Bersin said the violence is the result of "civil war" among the cartels.
"We see this as part of an ongoing threat that we've been cooperating deeply with the government of Mexico to confront," he said.
The FBI has dispatched agents to assist Mexican officials in the investigation of the Juarez attack.
On other fronts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said U.S. and Mexican officials are boosting collaboration in an effort to keep the violence from spreading.
Morton said Monday that ICE will soon have 40 U.S. agents at its Mexico City office, making it the largest ICE bureau in the world.
"We're going to be able to jointly investigate with Mexican authorities the smugglers who live and operate on the Mexican side," he said.
He cited several recent joint enforcement programs, including one started last fall to prosecute Mexican drug smugglers arrested in the United States in their home country. He said nearly 30 suspected smugglers have been brought to court in Mexico since the program started. "Several are now serving 10-year sentences," he said.
Though Juarez is on the other side of the Texas border across the river from El Paso, most of the attention in the immigration debate recently has focused on Arizona. The state in April passed a law making illegal immigration a state crime, bringing the issue of immigration hurtling into the national spotlight.
Nearly half of the National Guard troops will be deployed to Arizona. Morton on Monday acknowledged that the deployment places "particular emphasis" on the Tucson sector -- an area he said is "favored" by smugglers and serves as "the principal point of illegal entry into the United States along the southwest border."
Border-state lawmakers have complained that the administration is not doing enough to enhance border security, even with the deployment of the 1,200 troops. But administration officials on Monday said several additional steps are being taken.
Morton said CBP would be opening a new investigative office in Ajo, Ariz., to focus "exclusively on cross-border crime" and deploying a special task force to Douglas, Ariz., to help with investigations in that region.