The announcement from U.S. Homeland Security and the Justice Dept. comes after a year of infighting between the agencies and their federal responsibilities. "Moving past old disputes and ensuring cooperation between all levels of our Departments has been one of our top priorities since taking office," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder in an unusual joint statement.
"Today's agreement reflects our commitment to working together to protect the American people from violence and criminal activity along our borders. Ultimately, this agreement allows us to utilize the full range of the federal government's capabilities to disrupt and dismantle drug cartels and other criminal organizations that seek to infiltrate our borders" they said.
The growing drug violence between Mexican cartels that has spilled over America's border prompted a "merger" of arrests powers. ICE officials have pressed for expanded drug powers since 2003, when the agency took over customs investigations.
The surge in the drug war will more than double the number of federal agents that the DEA employs. Currently the DEA has 4,800 agents.
"Giving ICE agents the authority to investigate drug trafficking cases, enhancing information sharing capabilities between ICE and the DEA, and ensuring full participation in intelligence centers will strengthen our efforts to combat international narcotics smuggling, streamline operations and bring better intelligence to our front line personnel" stated Napolitano and Holder.
The move will also relieve a personnel strain felt by the DEA since expanding its presence in Afghanistan, which supplies the majority of the world's opium.
It is unclear how quickly the joint arrest powers will affect drug trafficking on Chicago streets, where most of the heroin inventory is from Mexico and much of the cocaine supply is shipped via Mexican supply routes.
While the surge expands federal drug arrest power, there is no indication that a similar surge will occur in illegal immigration arrests. Authorities have not publicly discussed the possibility of a reciprocal move to allow federal drug agents to also make immigration arrests.
Currently, many local police departments and federal agencies other than ICE take a pass on reporting the immigration status of arrestees.