A coalition of 21 Republican state attorneys general wrote President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week urging them to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) and provide additional federal resources for combating fentanyl.
“The national security threats posed by this ongoing campaign of violence are particularly acute,” the attorneys general wrote. “Clashes between gunman from rival cartels claimed the lives of 9 U.S. citizens just across the U.S. border on November 4, 2019. The cartels’ intense violence goes far beyond mere resistance to interference with their drug trafficking and now encompasses a general effort to intimidate rivals and expand their influence. This violence, which necessarily involves using firearms and explosives to kill security forces, plainly constitutes terrorist activity.”
While the cartels have been a problem for decades on both sides of the border, the United States, in particular, has struggled with a surge of fentanyl in recent years. The rise in accessibility of the powerful drug has led to a subsequent rise in overdoses – more than 100,000 deaths per year, according to the attorneys general. This, they added, was proof enough of the severe threat the cartels pose, but they haven’t stopped there.
While much cartel violence is internal, they have also been responsible for the ambush and assassination of numerous Mexican government officials over the years and represent, in many cases, an active armed insurgency against the Mexican government. By designating them terrorist organizations, the attorneys general alleged that state and federal law enforcement agencies would gain increased authority to freeze cartel assets, block entry for cartel members, and pursue stricter punishments against those who aid them.
Current laws, in their view, are too narrow to address the current threats cartels pose. For example, many cartels use otherwise legitimate enterprises in addition to narcotics trafficking to operate. Those legitimate enterprises cannot be pursued under existing laws unless they strayed into narcotics trafficking themselves.
Last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), officers seized more than 655,000 pounds of narcotics in shipments attempting to make entry, exit from, or transit through the United States. That said, figures appear to be dropping since at least 2020, when seizures topped 1.1 million pounds, and the agency has maintained its policies are working. Still, according to the Centers for Drug Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths increased by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, largely driven by fentanyl.
“We know that Mexican cartels are producing illicit and deadly fentanyl in Mexico then trafficking it across the nation’s southern border and up to Montana where they can make top dollar for their product,” said Austin Knudsen, Montana Attorney General and one of the letter’s co-signers. “One hundred percent of the illicit fentanyl in Montana is coming from the cartels – and it’s killing Montanans. I will continue to do everything in my power as attorney general to combat the fentanyl problem, but until President Biden secures the southern border, we can’t solve the problem.”