In-Depth: Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) introduced this bill to direct Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to submit a report to Congress designating certain Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs):
“Cartels are the problem and it is time we started acting like it. My colleague Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) and I are asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to conduct a review in order to designate these specific Mexican drug cartels Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). While there are hundreds of cartels, [this bill chooses the Reynosa/Los Metros faction of the Gulf Cartel, Jalisco New Generation cartel, and the Cartel Del Noreste faction of Los Zetas] because of their particularly violent actions and intentional strategies to affect the political system. These cartels push for an anarchic form of government which allows them to skirt laws and push their terrorist model without any legal ramifications. These dangerous groups terrorize through fear, intimidation, violence, and murder to control the government and bend society to their will. It is clear to the men and women of Border Patrol and those on the ground that cartels have operational control of our border, which endangers the U.S., Mexico, and the migrants who seek to come here. Designating these cartel factions FTOs would make it unlawful for those providing ‘material support or resources’ to them from entering the U.S. It would prevent actual members of these cartels from entering the U.S. It would also allow Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to block cartel assets.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) adds:
“Americans know that it is time to get tough and secure our southern border through physical barriers and better enforcement. The president is using the money Congress sent him to begin building a wall, and now we must follow up with this new designation that will empower our law enforcement agents to fight the cartels. Adding them to the FTO is applauded by the experts and those watching our southern border closely. We need to take back control and show these bad guys that Americans are fighting back!”
In February 2019, Reps. Green and Roy sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that he label drug cartels using terrorist tactics as FTOs. In their joint letter, the Representatives wrote:
“We write to urge the Department of State to consider designating many of the world’s most violent drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).... To be designate as an FTO, an organization must 1) be a foreign organization 2) engage in or retain the capability and intent to engage [in] terrorism and 3) threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national defense, foreign relations, or economic interests of the United States. Numerous drug cartels employ terrorist tactics that clearly fit this definition, such as the Reynosa/Lose Metros faction of the Gulf Cartel, the Cartel Del Noreste faction of Los Zetas, [and] the Jalisco New Generation Cartel offshoot of the Sinaloa Cartel. These groups use terror to intimidate and to advance their agenda. They threaten the stability of governments across the globe. Even the United Nations’ Security Council has recognized the clear link between drug trafficking and terrorism… Drug cartels have committed heinous acts of terrorism, from carrying out bombings that have killed innocent people, conducting ISIS-style beheadings, assassinating government officials and members of law enforcement, and engaging in torture and indiscriminate murder… [L]aw enforcement needs to have every tool at their disposal to dismantle drug cartels. Labeling cartels that utilize terrorism as FTOs would make it unlawful for any person who knowing provides ‘material support or resources’ to the cartel to enter the United States, prevent any member of a designated drug cartel from legally entering the United States, and allow the Secretary of the Treasury to block all assets possessed or controlled by the drug cartels. It would also further stigmatize these groups both at home and abroad. We believe that many drug cartels… fit the INA’s definition of FTOs. Accordingly, we urge the Department [of State] to designate these and similar cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.”
In March 2019, President Trump said he’s “very seriously” considering designating Mexican drug cartels as FTOs. In an interview with Breitbart News, he said, “We are. We are. We’re thinking about doing it very seriously. In fact, we’ve been thinking about it for a long time. . . . As terrorists — as terrorist organizations, the answer is yes. They are.” Accordingly, Trump has said he’s seriously considering this bill.
In a letter to their Congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill, Reps. Roy and Green noted, “Many DEA agents and members of law enforcement have long requested that narcoterrorism cartels be labeled as FTOs.” Testifying to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Mike McDaniel, Director of the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said that it’s “correct” to label the cartels specified in this bill as FTOs. He also offered his “full support” for this bill.
Daniel Horowitz, senior editor at the Conservative Review, made the case for designating cartels as FTOs in January 2019:
“Imagine for a moment that groups of Islamic terrorists set up shop at our border, killed tens of thousands of Mexicans, mutilated bodies, controlled a flow of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants every year over our border, and flooded our country with drugs and gangs. These organizations, in our ‘hypothetical,’ operate in over 40 countries, are flush with weapons, money, and military-style tactics, control operations inside our country, and bring in drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil that are essentially chemical weapons. Try to picture the reaction of our government under that circumstance. Now look at the reality. All of this is happening at our border and in our communities, with one exception. The perpetrators are not Islamic terrorists. It’s time for Trump to designate the Mexican cartels, such as Sinaloa, Zetas, Juarez, Jalisco, Gulf, La Familia Michoacán (LFM), and Los Guerreros Unidos (LGU), as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). Although many of these groups have already been designated as Transnational Criminal Organizations, we will not be able to defend our national integrity and security with the tools we have, such as special operations strikes, until they are designated as terrorists.”
Horowitz’s article cites Jason Jones, who spent 24 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s intelligence and counterterrorism division, has studied and fought the cartels for his entire career, and regularly speaks with cartel informants. Jones says, “the term Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) provides no authorities to law enforcement or the Department of Defense to eliminate the Mexican cartels” as the term “terrorist” would. He contends, “If we are to be successful in the future, our nation must designate the cartels as terrorists. Then our military can collaborate with host countries around the world to end them.”
Mark Morgan, who served as Border Patrol chief in the Obama administration, concurs with Horowitz’s view, arguing that simply putting more resources at the border “will not stop the Mexican cartels’ efforts to threaten [the U.S.],” as they’ll “continue to develop new tactics and techniques.” Morgan concludes, “The cartels must be targeted… with the same level of commitment and tenacity as we have against terrorist organizations. To successfully eliminate the threat cartels bring to our country, we must do everything we can to actively destroy them as an organization.”
In an op-ed in the Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer argues that it’d be a bad idea to label Mexican cartels as terrorist groups. He says this “looks like an innocuous idea, at first, but it could have dire consequences on many fronts,” as it’s “political candy to please Trump’s anti-immigration base” that’d “seriously affect U.S. national security”:
“While we all can agree that Mexican drug cartels do terrible things, let me give you a few reasons why including them in the group of terrorist organizations would be a bad idea. First, it would strain U.S. law enforcement and military resources badly needed to combat ISIS, Al Qaida, and other real terrorist groups. The FBI, the CIA and other agencies already are thinly stretched to monitor terrorist groups in the Mideast that admittedly seek to kill Americans. Asking U.S. intelligence agencies to start monitoring thousands of Mexican drug traffickers and their families would divert their attention from more serious threats. Second, by the State Department’s own admission, the idea that Mexican drug cartels are working with foreign terrorist groups is a myth. In fact, none of the 9/11 terrorists came through the U.S. southern border, and there is no evidence that terrorist groups want to sneak into the United States through Mexico, as opposed to through U.S. airports, or the Canadian border. A State Department report issued in September concluded that there is ‘no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.’ Third, Mexican drug cartels are not terrorist groups because they don’t have a political agenda. Contrary to Colombia’s FARC narco-guerrillas, Mexican cartels are in it for the money, not to topple any government. According to the most widely accepted U.S. government definition of terrorism, the term is used to describe organizations that engage in ‘premeditated, politically motivated violence.’ That’s not what Mexican drug cartels do. On the contrary, what they most want is to be left alone. Fourth, designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups would devalue the meaning of the word ‘terrorism.’ Most of us use that term to describe groups that, in addition to having a political agenda, kill innocent civilians. The drug cartels certainly kill innocent people, but in the vast majority of cases they kill rival drug traffickers. The U.S. government would be opening a Pandora’s box by extending the definition of terrorism to groups that kill other people, whether by design or not. Would alcohol, drug or tobacco manufacturers be accused of terrorism next? Fifth, it would further stigmatize the millions of hard-working Mexicans in the United States, many of whom have served in the military — something Trump has never done — and should be thanked for their contributions to this country. Trump has tried to demonize them for political gain from the first day of his presidential campaign in June, 2015, when he said that most Mexicans are ‘bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ Instead of trying to brand Mexico’s cartels as terrorists, Trump should use more of U.S. intelligence resources to go after real terrorists, including the American-born who carried out the mass shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a Charlotte, North Carolina church and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. But Trump is not talking about those who died there. He’s only talking about Mexico, in his quest to escalate his anti-immigration political agenda for the 2020 elections.”
David Gaddis, CEO of G-Global Protection Solutions, an international protection firm, argues that narcotics cartels generally aren’t terrorists, but rather criminals:
“Designated terrorist organizations intend to topple or significantly disrupt democratically-run governments. Most drug cartels are not involved in such activity, even avoid it as to not attract unnecessary attention to their criminal activities. Most drug cartels are not involved in such activity, even avoid it as to not attract unnecessary attention to their criminal activities.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Mark Green (R-TN).
Of Note: The State Dept., which is allowed to formally designate FTOs pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, defines FTOs as foreign organizations that either practice or have the means to practice terrorism, and which threaten the security of U.S. nationals or U.S. national security. Cartels are already subject to many of the same restrictions as FTOs under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, as well as other laws that specifically target Colombian cartels.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) proposed legislation to label drug cartels as FTOs in 2012, but this is the first proposal of this kind since President Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. When Rep. McCaul introduced his bill, it drew sharp opposition from some members of the Mexican government, who argued that it’d make drug consumers in the U.S. “financiers of terrorist organizations” and gun dealers “providers of material support to terrorists.” Mexican officials have long maintained that drug cartels — while incredibly brutal in their tactics — are motivated only by money, and aren’t driven by political ideology or a quest to destabilize or usurp a government, as terrorist groups are.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / vladans)