Mexican drug cartels, enriched by illegal immigration, dodged a bullet when President Donald Trump announced he would hold off on designating them as foreign terrorist organizations.
The reprieve should be a short one.
For decades, the cartels have terrorized communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent investigation detailed how one group currently operating 35 states controls “a sticky web that has snared struggling business owners, thousands of drug users and Mexican immigrants terrified to challenge cartel orders.”
A Rand study estimates that cartels and drug-smuggling networks, which exercise effective control over transit corridors through Mexico, reap billions of dollars from U.S.-bound migrants.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador prevailed on Trump to delay designating Mexico’s drug cartels as terrorist organizations, saying, “Our problems will be solved by Mexicans. We don’t want any interference from any foreign country.”
Meantime, the cartels continue to terrorize both countries. In early November, a cartel ambush killed nine members of an American family 75 miles south of the border.
In October, cartel thugs besieged a Mexican city to free the son of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from police custody. Outgunned and outmanned Mexican National Guard troops stood down while inmates were sprung from a local prison. The Obrador government suffered further embarrassment when a judge released 27 of the gunmen.
As Mexico teeters as a lawless narco-state, Mexico’s cartels have fanned out across the U.S. The Sinaloa cartel, regarded as one of the most powerful in Mexico, actually has gained a larger foothold here.
Last month, in a chaotic but highly choreographed operation, the Los Zetas cartel ran drugs into Rio Bravo, Texas, by deploying illegal aliens as decoys to divert Border Patrol agents. (Watch video here.)
All of this has serious immigration implications. If there are terrorist groups operating across American borders, that clearly affects how the U.S. is able to respond. The Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation can be a powerful legal weapon.
Congress has failed repeatedly, most recently in 2017, to classify Mexico’s drug cartels as terrorist organizations. In the absence of action on Capitol Hill and Mexico City, the Trump administration must act in the interest of America’s public safety, brand the cartels for what they are, and respond accordingly.