Image: Mexican Police patrol streets of Ciudad Juarez
Ronaldo Schemidt  /  AFP - Getty Images
Mexico's government has deployed 5000 police and army reinforcements to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez to help combat the ongoing crime violence near the U.S. border.
updated 3/10/2009 1:05:48 PM ET 2009-03-10T17:05:48

The top Republican on the House appropriations committee criticized the Defense Department on Tuesday for not making the situation in Mexico as big a priority as Afghanistan.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said the situation in Mexico is far more important than Afghanistan at this point. "We need to raise this to a higher level," Lewis told The Associated Press.

Speaking at a homeland security subcommittee hearing, Lewis praised the Homeland Security Department for using unmanned aerial vehicles along the border, but he slammed DoD for not providing helicopters to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

"You can't chase these people around in trucks," Lewis said during the hearing.

Since 2008, about 7,000 people have been killed in the drug wars, and violence is spilling into U.S. cities in some parts of the country.

Lewis said every major city in the U.S. is affected by the drug wars. There have been reports of drug cartel members settling scores with adversaries in such places as Atlanta, Phoenix and Birmingham, Ala.

The U.S. has given Mexico money and support as part of the Merida Initiative to combat drug trafficking.

Lewis said he is confident that the Barack Obama administration is starting to take the Mexico situation seriously.

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Last week, America's top military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Mexico to confer with Mexican leaders about the Merida Initiative — a plan to flood the U.S.-Mexican border region with $1.4 billion in U.S. assistance for law-enforcement training and equipment, as well as technical advice and training.

The assistance is intended to help Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa step up his war against drug cartels and lessen fears about Mexican drug-related violence spilling over American borders.

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said she wants her department and other federal agencies to focus on reducing the number of weapons being sent illegally from the U.S. into Mexico.

Most weapons the cartels are using come from the United States, said Mark Koumans, deputy assistant secretary for the department's office of international affairs.

Earlier, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., questioned whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth in border protection as people continue breaking through barriers to enter the United States illegally.

At a hearing on funding for border security, Price challenged the Homeland Security Department to explain why it has effective control of only 1 percent of the country's 4,000-mile border with Canada.

Of the $3.6 billion Congress has allocated for border security, $2 billion has been spent building 610 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Officials from Customs and Border Protection defended the success of the border security measures. Acting Commissioner Jayson Ahern said 720,000 people were caught last year trying to enter the country illegally, and officials seized 2.8 million tons of narcotics.

Officials said the escalating violence among Mexican drug cartels is evidence that the U.S. border security plan is working. "They are fighting for territory," Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar said of the drug cartels.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Mexico Under Siege

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  1. A tattooed man stands on a hill overlooking Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, on Dec. 20, 2008. Cartels have launched a wave of violence against the government of President Felipe Calderon since it began a crackdown on organized crime in 2006. According to the attorney general’s office there were 5,370 drug-related homicides in the year to Dec. 2, 2008. That is double the 2007 number. Juarez alone saw an estimated 1,600 such slayings. And the deaths can be horrific – victims have been tortured, beheaded or dissolved in acid. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Inside the car where Marisela Granados de Molinar was killed on Dec. 3 alongside her boss, Jesus Martin Huerta Hiedra, a deputy prosecutor in the Mexican city of Juarez. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Federal police search cars at an impromptu checkpoint near the U.S. border on Nov. 10, 2008. In the late 1980s the United States stemmed the flow of cocaine from South America through the traditional trade routes in the Caribbean. Looking for alternate ways into the U.S., South American cartels began to run drugs through Central America and Mexico, and now the vast majority of illegal drugs flow through this corridor. Facing the recent slew of deaths and corruption scandals among all levels of the police, the government has deployed 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels as well. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Missing person signs litter the walls of local police stations in Juarez. Kidnapping is integral to the drug-running business and the general lawlessness accompanying it. Before the latest surge in drug violence, Juarez was infamous for another gruesome string of crimes – the kidnapping and murder of young women. There have been 508 such incidents since 1993, according to the state government. When the bodies do show up, many have been raped and mutilated. Many believe that most of these deaths are related to gang initiation rituals. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. El Diario newspaper's Armando Rodriquez was murdered outside his home while warming up his car on Nov. 13, 2008. The 40-year-old crime reporter was killed in front of his 8-year-old daughter who he was about to drive to school. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since 2000, 25 have been killed there. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Many reporters refuse to put their bylines on stories, and many newspapers have stopped covering the drug gangs altogether. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The body of El Diario's Rodriquez -- killed in his car outside his house while his family watched in November 2008 -- is taken away in a body bag by an ambulance. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. official stands beside a recently discovered cache of drugs on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border crossing. In December, the United States delivered $197 million to Mexico, the first stage of a $400-million package to buy high-tech surveillance aircraft, airport inspection equipment, and case-tracking software to help police share intelligence. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Men and boys shoot heroin in a "picadero," or shooting gallery, in Ciudad Juarez on the banks of the Rio Grande, just across from the United States. Thousands of picaderos, some serving as many as 100 customers a day, are said to exist in Juarez alone. Drug use and addiction among Mexicans has exploded recently, with the number of known addicts almost doubling to 307,000 in six years. Most experts assume these numbers dramatically undercount the problem. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons and workers mingle at Hollywood strip club in downtown Juarez. With American sex tourism on the decline due to the dramatic increase in murder and violence, the few remaining strip clubs have become common hangouts for narcotics traffickers, or ‘narcos.’ (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A man walks in front of 24-hour funeral parlor. The death industry is booming in Juarez where an estimated 1,600 people were murdered in 2008. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Neighbors and family of slain Alberto Rodriquez, 28, watch and cry as the authorities descend on the crime scene. Rodriguez was killed in his car outside his house while his family watched. (Shaul Schwarz) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A bus carrying women and children drives by the site where David Rodriguez Gardea, 42, and Antonio Bustillos Fierro, 38, were gunned down on Nov. 12, 2008. The agents had led an investigation resulting in the arrests of gang members suspected in dozens of murders. The cartels are killing police officers at an unprecedented rate, especially at the border. Gangs have been breaking into police radio frequencies to issue death threats. "You're next, bastard ... We're going to get you," an unidentified drug gang member said over the police radio in the city of Tijuana after naming a policeman, Reuters reported recently. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A U.S. border patrol officer stands behind bullet-scared bullet-proof glass on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border. Although border agents do not get shot at often they are self-described "sitting ducks." The cartels and drug traffickers send messages of terror through such examples. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The casket of David Miranda Ramirez, 36, is carried by fellow police at his funeral on Nov. 13, 2008. An estimated 50 of Ciudad Juarez’s police officers were killed in 2008 in incidents blamed on drug gangs. Many officers have quit out of fear for their lives, often after their names have appeared on hit lists left in public. While some police have been killed, others are being lured into cooperating with the cartels. Theses gangs have “enormous economic power, and behind that, enormous power to corrupt and intimidate,” says Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Family of slain police officer Miranda Ramirez mourn his loss at his funeral. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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