Abbott declares Mexican cartels “terrorist groups”

Earlier this week, Texas Governor Gregg declared two major Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations and laid out further steps for taking action against the deadly criminal enterprises.

Abbott issued Executive Order GA-42, which spells out that the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel are to be designated as terrorist groups and paves the way for future proclamations targeting other cartels. The act was accompanied by a letter to the Biden Administration urging the federal government to take the same step.

Additionally, Abbott listed seven associated orders which described how Texas law enforcement would take advantage of the new declaration, including establishing a Mexican Cartel Division within the Texas Fusion Center for intelligence collection and conducting multi-jurisdictional investigations aimed at disrupting cartel operations.

Abbott justified the move by noting the devastating impact of fentanyl, a powerful opiate smuggled by cartels which some have identified as a potential weapon of mass destruction.

“Fentanyl is a clandestine killer, and Texans are falling victim to the Mexican cartels that are producing it,” said Governor Abbott. “Cartels are terrorists, and it’s time we treated them that way. In fact, more Americans died from fentanyl poisoning in the past year than all terrorist attacks across the globe in the past 100 years. In order to save our country, particularly our next generation, we must do more to get fentanyl off our streets.”

As a practical matter, the declaration by Governor Abbott that an entity represents a “terrorist group” carries with it no legal significance, unlike a foreign terrorism designation by the U.S. Treasury or State Department, which would immediately invoke built-in mechanisms and penalties. The Biden administration is highly unlikely to be receptive to any such effort, given growing tension between the Biden Administration and Republican governors over the issue of border security, but nothing in the law surrounding foreign terrorism designation would prevent such a federal designation.

The growing power of the cartels on the Mexican side of the border, fueled in part by massive human trafficking profits, has reached a level where they threaten the fundamental stability of the Mexican state. Multiple cartels maintain the capacity to use violence and armed force to virtually incapacitate multiple Mexican cities, and intimidate the government into releasing captured cartel figures or to achieve other demands. Mexican Cartels have also opened fire on U.S. Border Patrol and Texas National Guard troops.

The move by Abbott does open transitioning the border discussion from a criminal to a more explicitly national security context. Earlier in September 29 Texas counties declaredthe state was suffering from an “invasion” and asked Abbott to “take the necessary steps … to secure the Texas border and stop the invasion at the border, including the actions by paramilitary, narco-terrorist cartels that pose a huge risk to our communities.”

The counties’ declaration included asking Abbott to invoke Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, which allows states to utilize military force in the event of an invasion or imminent threat of the same. Classifying the cartels as a terror group, and viewing the deaths caused by fentanyl drug overdose within the context of a kind of bioterrorism, certainly reinforces arguments that the border crisis is essentially an invasion and would justify an appropriately robust response.

Texas could continue to solidify its position, if it were to take the lead in establishing a regional interstate compact to unify nearby states in their response to narco-terrorism threats. Each state should establish narco-terrorism task forces within the appropriate departments to gather intelligence and conduct operations to reduce and disrupt the threat of narco-terrorism in the region. States could also cooperate in multi-jurisdictional operations against narco-terrorism groups operating within the region,  sharing intelligence and resources. Agreeing to supply resources to bolster joint intelligence and investigative efforts to target narco-terrorist groups would also help solidify a regional effort as would formalizing and easing the extradition of subjects arrested on narco-terrorism-related charges among compact states.


Kyle Shideler

Director and Senior Analyst for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.



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EDITORS NOTE: This Center for Security Policy column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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