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Seizures of cash, weapons increase along border [Updated]

November 3, 2009 |  1:13 pm

Federal authorities today announced a sharp increase in seizures of bulk cash and weapons along the Southwest border, the apparent result of bolstered efforts to intercept contraband destined for Mexico.

More than $40 million in illicit cash was seized from March through September, nearly double the amount intercepted during the same period a year ago, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. Weapons seizures also jumped by more than 50% -- to about 600 weapons -- from April through September, compared with the same period a year ago.

[Update: an earlier post incorrectly said the increase in weapons seizures occurred from July through September.]

The increases come several months after federal authorities began targeting the southbound flow of weapons and drug money that fuels Mexican organized crime groups. Random checkpoints at major border crossings are now commonplace, and have yielded numerous large seizures.

At San Diego's Otay Mesa port of entry, customs inspectors in September found $500,000 inside a cargo truck and arrested two Mexican citizens, said John Morton, the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities meeting at a conference in San Diego said the trend reflects greater cooperation between an array of federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Customs and Border Protection.

It's not clear yet whether the increased seizures are having an impact on Mexico's ongoing war against organized crime. Drug cartel violence continues at high levels in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, with many of the weapons believed to be coming from the U.S.

-- Richard Marosi in San Diego

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