How America’s Drug War Is Affecting Illegal Immigration

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The firebrand opponents of undocumented immigration currently agitating for a looming wall on the U.S.-Mexico border—and calling for mass deportation of the people whose labor cares for our children, produces our food, builds our houses, and otherwise keeps the economy going—are also generally fans of the drug war.

The alt-right think-tank that generates what passes as policy for the Trump Administration is a prime example of this. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has harsh words for both marijuana legalization and “illegal immigrants.”

But in a twist, the drug war is making the immigration “problem” worse—in an unexpected way. Over the past year, there’s been a drop in the number of would-be migrants apprehended at the border, as The New York Times reports. Instead of people coming north, it’s money flowing south.

Seizures of cash—the proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs, heading back to cartel coffers—is up almost 50 percent through the first few months of the year. Authorities on both sides of the border say that this transnational flow of drug-related capital is an “equal” part of the immigration problem—if not much, much worse than the specter of people from Central America, without legal immigration papers, working the low-paying jobs in hospitality, food service, agriculture, and construction.

And anyone that is actually deported—plucked from a secure home in America, like the Indiana restaurant owner sent “back” after 20 years in the US—becomes perfect fodder for recruitment into cartel service.

From the Times:

Eduardo Guerrero-Gutierrez, a security analyst with Lantia Consultores, a consulting firm based in Mexico City, said the deportation of thousands of people to towns along the border could make both the United States and Mexico less safe.

“We think all these new people on the border will contribute to more violence,” he said. “All of these people that are deported — Mexicans and Central Americans, standing around with nothing to do — are potential recruits for cartels.”

As it happens, Mexican authorities would also like there to be a barrier between the two countries, so long as it stops the north-to-south flow of currency and firearms.

The international drug trade generates $64 billion every year for cartels, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. That cash flows south, where it generates more violence—the tools for which also originate in the US, as well as the means. Seventy percent of the guns seized in Mexico—73,000—originated in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

“It’s the money and the guns that have enabled the cartels to obtain the power they have,” ICE agent Scott Brown told the Times. Another border officer told the newspaper, “I wish I had a unit checking vehicles going south for guns and money.” But despite Trump’s call for tens of thousands of more border agents to check the flow of people north, he doesn’t “have the manpower” to do it.

Thus far, dialogue—or even tweets—from Trump on what to do about cartel funding has been absent from the tough talk about “bad hombres.” A Justice Department report on cartel activity, commissioned on the day Jeff Sessions was sworn in, is due in several months.

One method has been demonstrated to be effective in cutting cartel profits, and it’s not something Trump and his people have taken kindly to. Following the legalization of marijuana in America, cannabis farmers in Mexico have given up and moved onto other things—including opium poppies, which is another issue, but it’s proof positive that America can reduce demand for illegal drugs by changing that policy in some way.

“We need to get our own house in order,” Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, Washington-based think-tank, told the newspaper. “Our appetite for drugs in the country is having an impact on the south and driving people from those countries.”

It’s almost as if scapegoating illegal immigrants was a populist political ploy, designed at stoking Americans’ worst fears, rather than an approach towards workable policy.

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