The U.S. could designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations — what would that mean?

The powerful Mexican drug cartel is responsible. Abduction of four American citizens — and the deaths of two of them — could be designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States

Secretary of State Anthony Blanken said at a hearing in March that the department was considering naming Mexican drug cartels, which could include the Gulf Cartel, the cartel responsible for the attack. The Foreign Terrorist (FTO) designation has attracted interest in recent years as a tool to use against cartels.

Why is it being considered?

Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, says the killings of two American citizens crossed a “red line.”

Mexican drug cartels also traffic fentanyl, which is responsible for the rise in opioid deaths in the U.S. — more than 70,000 Americans died of synthetic opioid overdoses in 2021, most of them from fentanyl imported from Mexico. Happened from Last year, the DEA seized a significant amount of fentanyl. To kill every Americanmore than 50 million fentanyl-laced pills and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder, the majority at the southern border.

Ali believes now is the right time to designate the cartels as terrorist organizations, arguing that the United States is not currently using “all the tools we have” to combat them.

What makes a group a foreign terrorist organization?

To be labeled an FTO a group or network must meet three criteria:

  • Must be foreign.
  • Involved in terrorist activities.
  • An act of terrorism threatens US citizens or US national security.

How many foreign terrorist organizations are there?

There is More than 30 groups Designated by the State Department, none operate solely as drug cartels.

What will relabeling a group as FTO actually do?

An FTO designation opens up the option for more foreign sanctions and Material support chargewhich makes it much easier to indict someone on lesser charges for being associated with a terrorist organization.

“It definitely puts a stigma on them,” Ali said. “I would think the last thing the Mexican drug cartels want is to be labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. That’s bad for business.”

Does Congress have a role in classifying a group as an FTO?

The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, makes this designation. Then, it is sent to Congress for review and if it does not raise any issues with the designation, after seven days, it is made official and published in the Federal Register.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, has introduced legislation asking Blanken to target several cartels for FTO designation: the Gulf Cartel, the Del Norte Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Cartel. Generation. In February, 21 Republican attorneys general called on President Joe Biden and Blankenship to designate Mexican drug cartels as FTOs.

How will the designation affect the drug cartels?

Ali says it won’t stop the cartels, but it will get their attention – and the attention of everyone who works with them. Because of the material assistance charges available to the United States after FTO designation, charges for lower-level crimes, such as giving money to a cartel, would be much more severe. Contributing to a foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Officially designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorists underscores the national security threat they pose and the United States hopes will have a chilling effect.

Downsides of the FTO position?

But there are potential downsides to creating a designation. This could adversely affect US-Mexico relations.

“We already have a lot of power to deal with drug-trafficking organizations, in terms of all the policing capabilities we have to deal with them,” says Pamela Starr, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. “What it will do, however, is undermine bilateral cooperation with Mexico, and it will dramatically weaken our ability to address the challenges in Mexico.”

And the FTO’s designation as a tourist destination may also undermine the perception that Mexico is less safe.

Starr also warned that the designation could further radicalize drug cartels. “My real concern is that if you treat organized crime like it’s a terrorist organization, they might start using terrorist tactics,” Starr said.

According to Ali, in a worst-case scenario, the cartel could increase its targeting of American citizens.

But Ali says the FTO designation is valuable to Mexican drug cartels. “This level of activity is absolutely having an impact on our national security, more so with the flow of drugs into the United States than the targeting of Americans in Mexico. Don’t you think it’s working?”

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