By Alicia M. Cohn - 03/31/11 07:51 PM EDT
Six Mexican drug cartels would be labeled as terrorist groups under legislation introduced Thursday by a Texas Republican.
Rep. Michael McCaul’s bill would add the six cartels to the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, which also includes al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Shining Path and the Real IRA.
“The last time I visited the El Paso Intelligence Center and requested to go across the border to Juarez, the State Department told me they could not guarantee my safety,” the lawmaker said at a hearing Thursday on border violence.
McCaul pointed to the arrests of more than 450 cartel members within the United States this year as evidence of the drug gangs’ U.S. presence.
According to Brian Nichols, deputy assistant to the secretary of State, Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are responsible for about 95 percent of the cocaine and significant amounts of other drugs in the U.S.
“Because U.S. demand for these drugs is a principal source of revenue for Mexican DTOs, we have a shared responsibility for, and interest in, confronting this threat,” he said.
McCaul, the chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee, challenged President Obama to show leadership in the battle against the cartels, which he called “a war.”
He said the Merida Initiative, in which the United States and Mexican governments coordinate border security, is not working. Under the initiative, U.S. assistance to Mexico’s anti-drug trafficking efforts has jumped from $40 million a year to about $500 million.
“Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state controlled by criminals,” McCaul said, pointing to the deaths of U.S. citizens, Mexican government officials and ICE agents over the past year. “It is time for the United States to show a serious commitment to this war on our doorstep.”
McCaul called the attack on two ICE agents in February 2011 a “game-changer.”
On Wednesday, the administration offered to pay as much as $5 million for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the attack, which took place in Mexico and resulted in the death of Special Agent Jaime Zapata.
Democrats on McCaul’s panel said the U.S. should not take the lead in the Mexican fight.
Democratic Reps. William Keating (Mass.) and Bennie Thompson (Miss.) said violence in Mexico is concentrated hundreds of miles from the border.
Keating said most of the violence could be construed as a “turf battle between rival drug traffickers,” which does not fit the definition of spillover violence in its impact on U.S. security.
According to the FBI, crime along the southwest border has declined by about 14 percent over the last three years. “These numbers show a clear distinction between political rhetoric and proven facts,” Thompson said.
Luis Alvarez, assistant director of ICE, reported that his department “now has one quarter of its personnel assigned to the southwest border,” a larger ICE presence than ever before.
McCaul’s bill would add the Arellano Feliz and Beltran Leyva organizations, Los Zetas and Sinaloa cartels, La Familia Michoacana and Gulf Cartel/New Federation to the U.S. FTO list.
This would authorize the U.S. to deport members of an FTO and freeze their bank accounts. It would also mean that charges can be brought against anyone providing “material support or resources,” including monetary support, lodging, transportation and training. Charges could include a penalty of up to 15 years in prison or a life sentence if actions resulted in death.