Last week, Chinese organized crime groups were found working with the Mexican cartels in a global money laundering scheme.
But while the White House, Beijing and Mexico City continue to trade accusations, officials in Texas — which has the nation’s longest border with Mexico — are taking real steps to address the problem.
Chinese involvement in the drug trade along the southern border has alarmingly surged. Chinese groups have forged partnerships with Mexican drug cartels to distribute their deadly product in exchange for cash, which is later “cleaned” in vast money laundering operations. Chinese manufacturers are also supplying the cartels with precursor chemicals, which are used to produce methamphetamine, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids. The cartels then smuggle these illicit products across the border.
The Chinese government denies any hint of Chinese involvement in drug trafficking, but the FBI and DEA have proven that the cash is flowing back across the Pacific. In a February opinion piece, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) estimated that China is responsible for more than 90 percent of illicit fentanyl in the U.S.
Despite enormous evidence indicating otherwise, the Mexican government also denies all involvement. Last month, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reiterated his claim that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico. “We hold that there is no fentanyl [here],” he said. “There are no raw materials here.” However, many high-capacity synthetic drug production labs and fentanyl counterfeit pill mill laboratories have been found and seized by Mexican authorities in recent months.
Fentanyl has been named as the “single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered” by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. It was responsible for 109,680 deaths last year. Disturbingly, Mexican drug cartels often process deadly amounts of fentanyl into pills made to look like common prescriptions. One mother, Rebecca Kiessling, shared in testimony earlier this year that both her sons, Caleb, 20, and Kyler, 18, were killed after consuming counterfeit pain pills laced with fentanyl.
In addition to the threat of drug smuggling operations, Chinese nationals are being smuggled across our borders as well. Among the 1.2 million encounters at the border this year, 52.64 percent of those apprehended were from countries other than Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador. This fiscal year, there have been 9,711 Chinese migrant encounters at the southern border.
That border security is national security was made clear by Republican House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), who said on June 14 that the recent 393 percent increase in illegal Chinese migrants seen in recent months has included some with connections to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This corroborates the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s own sources, who have seen an alarming increase in military-age Chinese nationals since the beginning of the year.
Despite geographical distance and language differences, the ties between these criminal groups are remarkably strong. Encrypted apps like WeChat allow cartel members and Chinese criminals to communicate with one another from any smartphone. This instant messaging, in combination with the lawlessness taking place along the border have made it easier than ever for transnational criminal organizations to conduct business within the U.S.
China is not the only country seizing the opportunity to work with the cartels. Russian arms dealers were found attempting to sell weapons to the cartels, for the explicit purpose of shooting down American helicopters. This represents a larger trend in which criminal organizations recognize the immense influence cartels hold over the southern border and try to use it to their advantage.
These partnerships between foreign criminal organizations pose a unique hazard to national security. Addressing the cartels’ control of the drug trade in the U.S. is the only deterrent against further involvement by other nations.
But Texas is fighting back. The state legislature has passed measures to prevent further tragedies from occurring as a result of these organizations’ nefarious activities.
Last week, Gov. Abbott signed SB 1900 into law, designating the cartels and other criminal organizations associated with them as “foreign terrorist organizations” under state law. This allows for stiffer penalties to be enforced upon those caught working with the cartels to distribute illegal drugs. The bill also adds foreign terrorist organizations to intelligence databases and allows public nuisance lawsuits to be filed against them. The bill was a part of a larger border security package that aims to crack down on the smuggling of people and drugs across the Southern border.
There is currently no federal legislation likely to be signed by President Joe Biden to address this threat. It is imperative to acknowledge and address this problem at the national level, to put a stop to these criminal alliances and safeguard our communities from further destruction.