GOP Senators File Bill to Designate Mexican Cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations

drug cartels terrorist organization
Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

By Bethany Blankley (The Center Square)

Republican senators filed a bill to designate Mexican cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The move comes after several state’s attorney generals and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Biden administration to do so but it has not.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week at which Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, asked him if he would designate Mexican cartels as FTOs. He asked, “How about this idea – rather than just interdicting at the border, we go to the source and declare Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law, would you consider that?”

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“Yes we’d certainly consider that,” Blinken replied. Just two weeks prior, the White House said it wasn’t interested in making the designation.

In response to the Biden administration’s inaction, Graham and five other senators filed The Ending the Notorious, Aggressive, and Remorseless Criminal Organizations and Syndicates (NARCOS) Act on Wednesday. It designates nine Mexican cartels as FTOs.

Joining Graham are Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Steve Daines of Montana.

The bill designates the Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), Gulf, Los Zetas, Northeast, Juarez, Tijuana, Beltran-Leyva Cartel, and La Familia Michoacana, also known as the Knight Templar Cartel, as FTOs.

The FTO designation affords law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with greater power to freeze cartel assets and seek tougher punishments against those who provide material support to FTOs.

“Despite what the President of Mexico says, drug cartels are in control of large parts of Mexico,” Graham said. “They are making billions of dollars sending fentanyl and illicit drugs into the United States where it is killing our citizens by the thousands. Designating these cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations will be a game-changer. We will put the cartels in our crosshairs and go after those who provide material support to them, including the Chinese entities who send them chemicals to produce these poisons. The designation of Mexican drug cartels as FTOs is a first step in the major policy changes we need to combat this evil.”

“We need to dismantle and disincentivize Mexico’s cartels in every way possible. Designating these murderers as Foreign Terrorist Organizations would give U.S. officials more tools to use in putting the cartels and the networks that support them behind bars,” Kennedy said.

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The legislation also would create an Interagency Task Force to coordinate intergovernmental agency efforts to interdict cartel and transnational criminal activity. This task force would be similar to the National Counterterrorism Center, which was established after 9/11 to coordinate intelligence gathering, according to the bill.

They filed the bill six months after Abbott was the first to designate two Mexican cartels as FTOs through executive order. Last month, 21 attorneys general also called on the president and Blinken to do the same.

Abbott’s request last fall was the second he’d made. He said at a recent event in Houston that he’s sent eight letters to the president about border security and has received no responses to any of them.

In his executive order, Abbott cites cartel violence and record amounts of fentanyl pouring into the U.S. as justification for the designation, stating, “Mexican drug cartels are responsible for trafficking hundreds of millions of lethal doses of fentanyl into Texas and the United States.”

The attorneys general echoed Abbott’s concerns, arguing Mexican cartels are “assassinating rivals and government officials, ambushing, and killing Americans at the border, and engaging in an armed insurgency against the Mexican government,” they wrote. “This dangerous terrorist activity occurring at our border will not abate unless we escalate our response.

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“The Mexican drug cartels threaten our national security beyond the sale of these deadly drugs,” they continued. “Over the past decade, Mexican drug cartels have developed well-organized armed forces to protect their reprehensible trade from rivals and from the Mexican government. The existence of such forces just across our southwestern land border, and the Mexican government’s inability to control them, pose a threat to our national security far greater than a typical drug-trafficking enterprise.

“That threat is made greater still by the known links between the Mexican drug cartels and [FTOs] like Hezbollah who already intend to do us harm. Our national security requires the federal government to disrupt this collaboration between cartels and terrorist groups.”

Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.

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