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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Designates Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorist Organizations

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken another major step to address the issue of deadly fentanyl being smuggled over the southern border amid the ever-worsening migrant crisis. On Wednesday, he announced an executive order designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations and directed various state agencies to take steps toward decreasing the flow of fentanyl into the Lone Star State.

During a press conference in Midland, Abbott appeared with a group of law enforcement officials and directed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to establish a cartel division designed to attack these organizations’ infrastructure. He stated the unit’s objective will be to “target, seize, and dismantle infrastructure, assets, vehicles, and buildings used by foreign terrorist organizations” to sneak drugs and people into Texas.

Abbott also announced that he sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to classify Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations at the federal level, which is a suggestion many have made even under former President Donald Trump.

Fentanyl has become a major issue over the past few years. Last year, over 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses related to the opioid. It is typically laced into other drugs like pills, heroin, methamphetamine, and even marijuana. During the conference, it was noted that most of those dying from this drug don’t even realize they are ingesting it. It is 100 times as powerful as morphine, and it only takes a small dose to be fatal. About 1,600 of the fentanyl deaths last year occurred in Texas.

During the State of the Union address in March, President Biden vowed to implement policies to “help curb the dramatic spike in drug overdose deaths.” However, he did not make any statements about dealing with the Mexican drug cartels.

However, Rahul Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said addressing the flow of fentanyl into the country is among the administration’s top concerns.

“We are laser-focused on immediate actions that will save American lives quickly,” Gupta said in a written statement to the Washington Post. “We’re taking decisive steps to reduce the supply of illicit fentanyl, increase prevention efforts, and provide law enforcement and public health officials on the front lines with the resources they need.”

Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined 17 other state attorneys general to demand that the president designate fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.

“For so many individuals and families across this country, fentanyl has already caused mass destruction,” Paxton said in a written statement. “To treat it as anything less is more than just dangerous — it’s a serious dereliction of duty that will only lead to more deaths and tragedy.”

Abbott’s designation of cartels as terrorist organizations is mostly symbolic as the state does not have terrorism-related measures. However, this might be different if it were done at the federal level. According to Lawfare:

As Robert Chesney wrote in 2011, cartels most likely satisfy the three main criteria required to designate a group as a terrorist organization under 8 U.S.C. § 1189. First, the organization must be a foreign organization—a likely nonissue, as the cartels are based in Mexico. Second, the organization must engage “in terrorist activity … or terrorism … or retain[] the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism” with terrorism defined to include the use of explosives or firearms to endanger others, kidnapping to compel actions by another, and assassination. Given that cartels regularly engage in kidnapping, execution-style killings, and assassinations of journalists and politicians, they easily surpass this threshold for terrorist activity. Third, this terrorist activity must threaten “the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States.” And the Nov. 4 attack arguably exemplifies the danger that cartels pose to American citizens, especially those spending time in or residing in Mexico.

The report notes that “Designating cartels as [foreign terrorist organizations] would allow federal prosecutors to use two statutes targeting terrorist activity against cartel members, thereby exposing a large swath of potential defendants—including cartel members and allies who work abroad—to steep criminal penalties.”

Even further, “because Mexican cartels operate throughout Mexico, have established presences in every state within the U.S., and increasingly partner with U.S. street gangs in order to distribute narcotics, the use of these statutes against cartel members and affiliates could sweep up a much broader pool of defendants than previous applications against other FTOs.”

Suspects with criminal liability under such measures could face longer prison terms if they are charged as terrorists and this would allow the authorities to also go after individuals who are not directly involved in drug trafficking but provide assistance in other ways.

Biden has not signaled that he is open to the idea of designating cartels as terrorist organizations. The matter does not appear to be on his radar – his decision to ignore the migrant crisis demonstrates this. Unfortunately, this means the U.S. probably won’t take decisive action against cartels and the flow of fentanyl into the country, which has already had a tragic human cost. Since this administration is clearly not moved by the thousands of deaths that have resulted from its border policies, it is hard to imagine that more overdose deaths would cause them to so much as bat an eye. This issue will likely not be addressed until America has a new president in the Oval Office.