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Is the U.S. AWOL in the war on drugs?

Migrants ride on top of a northern bound train toward the US-Mexico border in Union Hidalgo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Associated Press/Photo by Eduardo Verdugo, File

Is the U.S. AWOL in the war on drugs?

WASHINGTON—Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., visited the Nogales processing center in Arizona on Friday, where hundreds of Latin American children await deportation or permission to stay in America. He said the center was just like videos he’d seen on the news—children crowded behind chain-link partitions. Vendors bringing food. Port-a-potties clustered in corners.

Salmon and others blame America’s current immigration surge on drug cartels plaguing Latin America. Many of the “coyotes” who smuggled the children to America also ship drugs across the border.

“The problem we’re seeing at the border right now is the tip of the iceberg,” Salmon said.

During a meeting on Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, Salmon and three immigration experts called on the federal government to take responsibility for fighting Latin American drug cartels.

Illegal immigration became a hot issue in late May after more than 1,000 illegal immigrant children crossed Texas and Arizona borders. Because President Barack Obama announced two years ago that American immigration officials would not deport children who are not from Mexico or Canada, they potentially have a free ticket into America.

Drug cartels terrorize Central American families with criminal enterprises that include human trafficking, extortion, and drugs. They thrive on American cash. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, illegal drug sales from Mexico cost America $22 billion each year. While border patrol agents stop drugs from crossing U.S. borders, they sometimes miss money leaving the country through tunnels built underneath border restaurants or hidden in cars.

Jerry Brewer Sr., CEO of Criminal Justice International Associates, said during Tuesday’s meeting that throwing money at Central America is not enough. Instead, border patrol agents should stop the money that funds the drug lords. He called drug cartels transnational organized crime rings, arguing they use a lot of the same high-tech methods as terrorist organizations like the Taliban.

Brewer has spoken with border patrol agents who have broken into cartel hideouts and found pictures of Mexican policemen’s families and charts of their daily habits. Once they have established a pattern, cartel assassins can easily kidnap or kill anyone who interferes with their business.

Brewer recommends the U.S. government work directly with Central American countries to boost security and free trade. Many Mexicans do not trust the police, who either don’t know how to combat the cartels or give in to bribes. Many Central Americans don’t trust America, either, he said.

“We aren’t seen as a reliable partner,” Brewer said. “To build good partnerships, we have to be a good partner.”

Instead of leaving Central American governments with weapons and little else, Brewer recommends federal officials create “strategic hamlets” where Americans could help local governments boost security in a few cities so they can become more powerful than the cartels.

As even more illegal immigrant children arrive in Arizona and Texas to escape the crime in their home countries, Salmon is co-sponsoring the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act. The bill, introduced May 9, would fund a team to research what has and hasn’t worked with America’s drug policies.

“I must admit the United States has been AWOL in the war on drugs,” Salmon said. “It breaks your heart.”

Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette Rikki is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD contributor.


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