MEXICO CITY – Mexico set a new high in extraditing criminal suspects to the U.S. on Sunday, reaching a total of 100 so far this year in what the U.S. Embassy called a "record for bilateral cooperation between the two countries."
The milestone underscored the long distance the two countries have come since the 1990s, when Mexico was so loath to send fugitives north of the border that U.S.-paid bounty hunters kidnapped a suspect in Mexico and took him back themselves.
"This is a great day for U.S.-Mexican partnership and cooperation. And obviously, a very bad day to be a bad guy," said U.S. Embassy charge d'affaires John Feeley.
The Embassy said Mexican authorities sent back 11 suspects Sunday sought in the United States for crimes including murder, rape and drug trafficking. That raised the number for 2009 to 100 extraditions, compared to 95 in all of last year.
Mexico's deputy attorney general in charge of extraditions, Leopoldo Velarde Ortiz, said the reason for Mexico's more willing attitude "is a clear understanding that we cannot allow impunity, and that we have to stop crime."
Feeley said that "this action by the government of Mexico demonstrates it will not allow its country to be a refuge and hiding place for criminals."
Mexico was once reluctant to extradite anyone to the United States, and it still refuses to do so in cases in which a suspect might face the death penalty.
In 1990, relations between the two countries reached a low point when a Mexican doctor wanted in connection with the slaying of a U.S. drug agent was captured in Mexico by U.S.-paid bounty hunters and taken to Los Angeles for trial.
Mexico demanded the doctor's return and briefly suspended anti-drug cooperation with the United States over the incident. Mexico largely refused to extradite its own citizens until the late 1990s.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that "each year since 2001, Mexico has increased the number of defendants it extradites to the United States."
"By ensuring that alleged criminals are held accountable, we send a strong message that fleeing across the border does not mean you will escape justice."
Those extradited Sunday are accused of crimes including murder, sex offenses, drug trafficking and money laundering in Texas, Washington, Florida, Indiana, California and Maryland.