JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Mexico’s National Guard will have a permanent presence in Juarez to address the immediate challenge of migrant trafficking and, down the road, to join the fight against the drug cartels, the mayor of Juarez said.

“They need a bigger presence in our city. We are already beginning to see them in the role of first responders (to migrant smuggling events). We need to have them develop intelligence units to help us cope with the organized crime that operates in our city and generates so much violence,” Mayor Armando Cabada said on Thursday.

His comments followed the announcement that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be in Juarez on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to inaugurate the National Guard headquarters here and talk about public safety challenges with local officials.

Juarez last year had the third-highest per capita homicide rate in the world and this year has already surpassed 800 murders. La Linea drug cartel and its surrogate gangs – La Empresa, Aztecas and others – control drug sales in most of the city and export routes in the western half, while Sinaloa cartel proxies have been active in the Juarez Valley for the past two decades. The two groups, lately, are also trying to monopolize migrant trafficking in their zones of influence, officials on both sides of the border say.

Lopez Obrador will be in the nearby town of Villa Ahumada on Saturday to tour the new regional National Guard headquarters there, then make his way to Juarez, where on Sunday morning he will inaugurate the guard’s barracks in South Juarez. He has been invited to attend Monday’s weekly top-level public safety meeting here and may broadcast his daily national news conference from Juarez.

Cabada said three National Guard buildings are under construction in his city: the one next to Juarez International Airport that the president likely will tour, one in Northwest Juarez near the Santa Teresa port of entry and a third in southeast Juarez.

“The city has donated the land for two of the buildings, nearly 100,000 square meters (1 million square feet). The one next to the airport will be strategic. We have also donated the one near Anapra,” the mayor said.

Lopez Obrador created the National Guard in 2019 in response to former President Donald Trump’s pressure to help stem the migrant surge from Central America. Since then, soldiers have patrolled the border with Guatemala and have been seen sporadically on the banks of the Rio Grande across from El Paso, Texas.

Cabada said between 350 and 400 National Guard troops are stationed in Juarez and more will come as new barracks are finished.

Mayor-elect getting $108 million ‘head start’

Cabada on Thursday met with Mayor-elect Cruz Perez Cuellar in preparation for a Sept. 10 change of the guard at City Hall.

In a news conference, Cabada said he’s leaving Perez Cuellar $108 million in city coffers to spare him starting his administration in a financial crisis. “This surplus is the result of our efficiency in tax-collection and (responsible) taxpayers,” Cabada said. “You will also have the (police) vehicles and equipment to work without problems the rest of the year.”

Perez Cuellar said he was grateful for the outgoing mayor’s financial accountability but warned his resources will be limited by a multimillion-dollar public works program that state of Chihuahua started in Juarez – at the expense of Juarez.

“It’s good to hear finances are sound so we can make good on our promises to Juarez residents,” he said. “We regret the (state’s) decision regarding the Urban Mobility Plan. We will do what we can to fight it through legal pathways. It is robbery out in the open. It will be hard, but we have to try it. It is really disastrous for Juarez.”