McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Local law enforcement agencies support a push by federal officials to declare Mexican drug cartels as “terrorist” organizations, which could provide them more funds and leeway to patrol the border and give the United States more power to dismantle cartels.
Renewed efforts to categorize Mexican cartels have come up in light of the recent kidnapping of four Americans in the northern Mexican border town of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.
On Tuesday, Mexican authorities announced that two of the U.S. citizens were killed and their bodies were located in a remote area of Matamoros. The other two were injured and taken across the border to a Brownsville hospital, according to media reports.
The four were abducted after their minivan was shot at Friday in the streets of Matamoros. The FBI late Sunday announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the victims.
Videos surfacing on social media showed the van, with North Carolina license plates, caught in what several have described as a cartel shootout in broad daylight.
“We’re asking them to use everything in their power to go after these drug cartels,” Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra told Border Report on Tuesday. “If we would declare them a terrorist organization then I think that would force our federal government to crack down on the Mexican government and say, ‘You got to do something with these organizations.'”
Guerra is chairman of the Southwestern Border Sheriffs Coalition, which includes sheriffs from the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Last month, they met with other sheriff’s associations in Washington, D.C., as part of the American Sheriff Alliance, to discuss overdose deaths and violence directly linked to drugs coming across the border from Mexico.
They issued a statement “imploring the public to demand their elected officials use every available sanction and accountability tools at their disposal in combatting the atrocities committed against our country and its citizens by the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. Without such action these dangerous cartels will continue to destroy the very fabric of our families and communities.”
Guerra tweeted support for the measure last month: “Call upon your federal elected officials to change our foreign policy and force the Mexican government to dismantle these drug cartels that are operating with impunity.”
On Tuesday, Guerra told Border Report that if Congress authorizes more force against cartels, then perhaps more U.S. citizens won’t be harmed south of the border, and fewer drugs will come across the Rio Grande unstopped by Mexican officials.
“We want to pressure our government to pressure the Mexican government to do something because they operate over there with impunity. You just saw what they did to four Americans who went to Matamoros. Look at the government’s responses to that. They’re allowing these cartels to basically run the streets of Matamoros and Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana. As far as them proposing legislation to declare them as terrorist organizations, I think all law enforcement is for that,” Guerra told Border Report on Tuesday.
You just saw what they did to four Americans who went to Matamoros. Look at the government’s responses to that. They’re allowing these cartels to basically run the streets of Matamoros …”Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra, chairman Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition
“Declaring (cartels) a terrorist organization would make it easier for the federal government and federal agencies to act not only within, but externally outside the United States against these organizations,” McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez told Border Report. “That broadens what the U.S. can do.”
Rodriguez said such a declaration also would allow locals to expand their investigations into persons affiliated with known drug cartels that are declared terrorists. Assets seized from these investigations could also help bolster local law enforcement agency coffers along the border.
“It’s not so much locals, but there is a little bit of what I call residual kind of stuff that would come with that if it does happen,” Rodriguez said. “Right now you’re limited to proving the local activity as opposed to linking it to an international organization.”
A border congressman says such a declaration also would put Mexico on notice.
“There is no excuse for the crimes we witnessed over the weekend,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report. “We must hold those responsible for these senseless acts of violence accountable by working collaboratively with our law enforcement and intelligence communities — including the FBI — and our Mexican counterparts.”
During a news conference on Tuesday, Cuellar said: “I say this with all due respect. We can help Mexico as far as they want us to help them. So there’s a lot more than we can do. But it’s up to the Mexican government to allow us to help them as much as we can.”
Cuellar brought up these two bills proposals in Congress, both introduced in January, that would allow the United States to more aggressively go after Mexican drug cartels:
- The Security First Act, proposed by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas
- The Authorization for Use of Military Force, proposed by Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw, of Texas, and Mike Waltz, of Florida.
The Security First Act would double funds for Operation Stonegarden to $180 million for Fiscal Years 2024-27. It would also allow assets seized from crimes on the border to go into the Operation Stonegarden grant program. This program allows overtime for sheriff’s deputies and local border police to help the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to patrol the border region.
If passed by Congress, it also would require the Homeland Security Secretary to produce a report detailing whether the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, the Gulf Cartel and/or Los Zetas “meet the criteria for designation as foreign terrorist organizations,” according to the bill.
Guerra says 80% of all the fentanyl coming into the United States is from the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Using military force
The Authorization for Use of Military Force act “would put us at war with the cartels by authorizing the use of military force against the cartels,” Crenshaw said in a statement. “We cannot allow heavily armed and deadly cartels to destabilize Mexico and import people and drugs into the United States. We must start treating them like ISIS – because that is who they are.”
If passed, it would allow the president to use military force against cartels based on their fentanyl trafficking, production and distribution; their use of force against U.S. law enforcement and/or military, law enforcement and/or military of a neighboring country and/or to gain control of territory to use for their criminal enterprise.
Specifically, it names the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels “the main importers of fentanyl into the United States.”
The legislation also establishes limitations that would prohibit the use of military force against foreign persons outside the territory of the United States, and includes a sunset five years after enactment.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, also told FOX News on Tuesday that he was planning on introducing legislation that would allow the United States to use military force against Mexico to crack down on cartels.
In September, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared drug cartels as terrorists as part of Operation Lone Star. In signing the order, Abbott announced that Texas Department of Safety would have more power to conduct multi-jurisdictional investigations of transnational and Texas-based gangs. It also allows the state agency to target and seize assets from drug cartels operating in Texas.
“It is time we start treating cartels as terrorist organizations and work with the Mexican government, who is our closest and biggest trading partner, to dismantle cartels,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents Brownsville and South Texas, said Tuesday. “Congress and President Biden must act now before any more people lose their lives.”
During his daily news conference on Monday, Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador dismissed proposals by Republican U.S. lawmakers to use the U.S. military to fight drug cartels in Mexico as “pure propaganda.”