By Gary Bauer
Among the many polarizing aspects of the ever-raging immigration debate, there is one that should unite all Americans. The violent drug cartels that dominate most of Northern Mexico constitute one of America’s greatest security threats.
A bill passed by Congress Thursday will send more troops to the border. That’s good news, but it’s only a start. President Obama and his congressional allies are wrong if they believe the 1,000 additional National Guard troops authorized by the legislation will be enough to stop a threat that has gotten so severe that it jeopardizes the territorial integrity of the United States.
Nearly 30,000 Mexicans have died in drug violence since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops to break up rival drug cartels that fight on the U.S. border for control of trafficking routes.
But the Mexican government’s efforts have been plagued by corruption. In parts of Mexico, the cartels have more authority than the police. In other parts, bribery and intimidation are rampant, and the gangs have infiltrated the police and the military.
A 2006 report found that more than 20% of Mexico’s Federal Investigations Agency’s 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity. Certain cartels even have sway in Mexico’s electoral politics. Former U.S. drug czar and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey has predicted Mexico “might well become a narco state within a decade.”
If the cartels pose an existential threat to the Mexican police and military, they pose a territorial threat to the United States. In fact, as Roger Hedgecock has written in these pages, the U.S. is already ceding parts of our territory to the Mexican drug cartels.
There are areas of Texas and Arizona where American citizens are discouraged from traveling or even getting out of their cars because of cartel activity. Pinal County Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu said in a June press conference about his mid-state county, “We do not have control of this area.”
And it is no coincidence that, as Terry Jeffrey noted last week, “when measured by the number of criminal defendants charged with federal crimes by U.S. attorneys, the top five U.S. judicial districts for fiscal 2009 were all on the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The cartels aren’t the only problem. Judicial Watch has highlighted U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) records that show a sharp increase in the number of incursions and encounters with the Mexican government (police and military) along the U.S. border. In 2008, there were also significant increases in number of assaults on American border agents and National Guard troops.
Drug smuggling and human trafficking have made Phoenix the kidnapping capital of the U.S. That city reported 368 kidnappings (the number of unreported kidnappings is likely much higher) in 2008, more than double the number from a decade earlier.
It’s not only California, Texas and Arizona that are affected by our porous borders and the drug cartels that exploit them. A 2009 Justice Department report identified more than 200 American cities in which Mexican drug cartels “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors.” That’s more than twice the number of cities from three years earlier.
What’s most troubling is how sophisticated the cartels are getting. Many now use advanced weaponry, including grenade launchers, mortars and body armor. In one recent incident, a cartel used a cell phone to detonate a car bomb that killed two Mexican law enforcement officers.
There are also increasing signs that Islamic terrorist groups are training and working with the cartels. In 2008, the House Homeland Security Committee reported that Hezbollah members had been caught trying to cross from Mexico to the U.S. In June, Mexican authorities arrested Jameel Nasr, Hezbollah’s leader in Latin America, at his home just miles from the Mexico-U.S. border.
According to the Justice Department, the Mexican drug cartels are the greatest organized crime threat to the United States. But action to alleviate this crisis has been taken hostage by liberal politicians blinded by the electoral ramifications of amnesty.
Some liberals and others insist that America’s demand for drugs is the fundamental problem, and that it would be resolved by legalizing the production and sale of drugs. Others suggest that American gun laws must be tightened because most of the weapons used by the drug gangs come from the U.S. But the uneasy truth is that we need to beef up our military presence on the border.
In May, President Obama finally agreed to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. But thousands more will be needed to help protect the 2,000-mile border we share with Mexico.
On Monday, Texas Governor Rick Perry met briefly with Obama when the President touched down at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. Perry handed the president a letter highlighting the escalating drug cartel violence in the Lone Star State.
In the letter, Perry criticizes as “insufficient” the deployment of 286 National Guard troops to Texas. He also re-iterates a standing request for at least 1,000 troops as well as modern technology and strategic fencing.
Perry cites several examples of increased drug cartel violence in Texas and states, “Absent stronger federal action, it’s only a matter of time before that violence affects more innocent Americans.”
Liberal elites seem to want nothing to do with the immigration issue when it doesn’t involve stoking racial tensions or granting amnesty to millions illegal immigrants. But immigration reform is about more than name-calling and vote counting. It’s a matter of life and death.
Congressional passage this week of a $600 million border security bill is a step in the right direction. But it won’t mean much if congressional liberals use the bill as an excuse to pivot to another attempt at passing immigration amnesty.
The violence and brutality of Mexico’s drug cartels will only intensify until they are treated as the national security threat that they have become. Sadly, as the threat from the cartels strengthens, the resolve of America’s liberal elites to address the issue in a serious way weakens.