LUKEVILLE, Ariz. — Each year, Mexican drug cartels rake in billions of dollars in profits from the sale of heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs in the United States. The money has to make its way south somehow.
Though the cartels sometimes hire legitimate companies to buy goods like silk and ink cartridges and export them to Mexico, where they are sold for pesos, a more common method is to simply pay someone to drive the cash over the border.
President Trump has talked frequently about “bad hombres” streaming in from Mexico. But it is the flow of money going from north to south — a product of Americans’ voracious appetite for illicit drugs — that officials say is an equal part of the problem.
“It’s the money and the guns that have enabled the cartels to obtain the power they have,” Scott Brown, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Phoenix, part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview. “I’m a firm believer that if we can keep the cartels from getting their profits, over time, that has a lot more impact than seizing the drugs.”ontinue reading the main story
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A few weeks ago, customs agents here, on separate operations, stopped two Mexican men on their way to Mexico with nearly $60,000 hidden in secret compartments in their cars. A few days later, they stopped a 43-year-old Mexican woman heading into Mexico with several assault rifles, a handgun, multiple ammunition magazines, two weapon scopes and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.
“I wish I had a unit dedicated to checking vehicles going south for guns and money,” Pete Bachelier, a United States Customs and Border Protection officer who is in charge of the local port of entry, said in an interview. “I just don’t have the manpower.”
Since 2008, customs officers at ports of entry along the southern border have seized about $300 million in cash heading into Mexico in commercial vehicles and passenger cars, according to statistics from Customs and Border Protection.
Customs officers and border patrol agents say that money, which was found while following up on tips or stumbled upon during random stops, represents a fraction of the actual total. So far this year, officials said, seizures of southbound cash are up 48 percent through March: $18.6 million compared with $12.6 million over the same period last year. The officials said the increase was probably because the agency was able to deploy more officers to look for money and guns amid a decline in apprehensions of undocumented migrants on the border.
“We need to get our own house in order,” said Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank based in Washington. “Our appetite for drugs in the country is having an impact on the south and driving people from those countries.”
So far, Mr. Trump’s response to the drug and immigration crisis has been narrow in scope.
In addition to his focus on building a border wall, he has pledged to hire 15,000 additional border and deportation agents to round up and deport undocumented immigrants entering or already in the United States.
But several Mexican security experts and former government officials say Trump administration actions on border security and immigration are too limited.
“Border security is a shared responsibility,” said Alejandro Hope, a security consultant and former analyst with Cisen, the Mexican intelligence agency. “The United States is not going to be safer by scapegoating Mexico.”
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.”Read More...
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