Briefing on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Countering Illicit Fentanyl Trafficking Hearing
On February 15th, 2023, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on countering illicit fentanyl trafficking. Senate leaders heard testimonies from DEA and White House officials on the role of Mexican drug cartels in fentanyl supply chains, the repercussions of this crisis on migration and border security, and the challenges and opportunities it poses for U.S.-Mexico bilateral cooperation. This briefing provides an overview of the two-hour hearing and a selection of transcribed quotations, by topic.
Mexican Drug Cartels and Fentanyl Supply Chains
- Fentanyl precursors are transported from China to Mexico, where cartels produce fentanyl in labs and then typically traffic it to the United States through ports of entry at the border.
- Republicans and Democrats agree that the United States must work with China and Mexico to disrupt these supply chains and decrease the amount of fentanyl in the United States.
- The Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels are the main traffickers of fentanyl into the United States.
Migration and Border Security
- Republicans attempted to connect President Biden’s border policy to an increase of fentanyl in the United States, arguing that migrants and drug dealers bring fentanyl across the border.
- Fentanyl mainly comes through points of entry, and it is unconfirmed, but doubtful, that migrants seeking asylum are also trafficking fentanyl across the border.
- Senators from both parties agree that Mexico is not doing enough to combat fentanyl trafficking.
- While some efforts have been made to cooperate with Mexico, more action from the Mexican government is needed to stop fentanyl trafficking.
Selected Quotations by Subject and Video Timestamp
Mexican Drug Cartels and Fentanyl Supply Chains
1:04- Senator Menendez: “According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most of the fentanyl trafficked into the United States is produced in clandestine labs in Mexico with precursor chemicals secured from China. We need to use every foreign policy tool we have to stop the flow of fentanyl into our country. This means asking Mexico to do more to disrupt criminal organizations from producing him trafficking fentanyl. Although a politicized judiciary and incidents of Mexican security forces colluding with drug cartels will make that very difficult, but we have to try. It means expanding our work with India to strengthen regulation of its chemical and pharmaceutical industries. And of course, it also means confronting China. I doubt Xi Jinping cares about his chemical and pharmaceutical industry supplying the Mexican cartels that are flooding the United States with fentanyl. But let's be clear his government's negligence is helping unleash a deadly wave of fentanyl related deaths not only here in the United States, but also in Canada and Mexico, as well as countries in Eastern Southeast Asia that are struggling with their own crisis of synthetic opioids from China.”
5:45- Senator Risich: “China is the primary source of illicit fentanyl and synthetic opioid precursors that the Mexican cartels are using to manufacture lethal drugs. They're then smuggling these drugs into the United States. Chinese traffickers and money launderers are also increasing cooperation with Mexican cartels. Mexican cartels leverage their drug trafficking profits to acquire sophisticated weapons corrupt officials challenge the authority of the Mexican state and commit terrible atrocities. Same cartels are profiting from and prolonging the illegal migration crisis caused by the Biden administration's weak enforcement of border security and immigration controls. Several of my Senate Foreign Relations Committee colleagues and I released a report last year offering concrete recommendations to improve border security. Unfortunately, the administration refuses to even acknowledge we have a problem. It's time the administration wakes up. We have a serious threat at the border and the President needs to be serious about addressing. The Chinese government's tacit endorsement of this massive drug trade is a huge issue.”
10:35- Dr. Gupta: “The majority of illicit drugs harming Americans are produced outside of the United States, criminal elements mostly in the People's Republic of China, shipped precursor chemicals to Mexico where they're used to produce illicit fentanyl.”
15:55- Administrator Milgram: “Perhaps the most important thing that I can tell this committee today is that we know who is responsible. The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco cartel. Both cartels in Mexico are responsible for the vast majority of fentanyl that is coming into the United States. It is why DEA has made defeating those two cartels our top operational priority. To explain a little more, those two cartels dominate the entire global fentanyl supply chain. They start in China where they are purchasing precursor chemicals to make fentanyl they then take those chemicals into Mexico where they are mass producing fentanyl first fentanyl powder. And second, they are pressing a great deal of that powder into fake prescription pills. In Mexico. Those pills look identical to real American and international medicines. Things like oxycodone, Percocet, Adderall, or Xanax but they have no real medicine in them. They are fentanyl and filler. The cartels then move the fentanyl powder and the fake pills into the United States. They sell a lot of it on social media and in other ways across our country. We are now seizing fentanyl in all 50 states and it is the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced. After the cartels sell those drugs in the US. They work to get their profits back to Mexico. And they do that through illicit finance. Often today we see through Chinese money laundering organizations that are operating both in the United States and in Mexico. For all these reasons, our top operational priority right now is to defeat these two cartels. First, we've taken a network-based approach to the cartels. We can no longer just target the high value targets the people at the top of the cartels and expect that we will see a change. So we're targeting the entire networks from the precursor chemical companies in China to the chemists and the members of the cartel mass producing fentanyl in Mexico to the people transporting the fentanyl into the United States selling the fentanyl in the United States and then moving the money back into Mexico. Second, we formed this past September to counter threat teams. Right now on top of all of DEA, our 332 offices worldwide in 69 countries. We have one counter threat team devoted solely to defeating the Sinaloa Cartel and one devoted to the Jalisco cartel. On those teams, we have special agents. We have intelligence analysts, we have target experts, we have data scientists and we have subject matter experts like chemists and experts on illicit finance and Chinese precursors. Those teams are mapping these entire cartels worldwide. We have now to date identified those two cartels in more than 40 countries around the world. In addition to mapping those cartels, they're analyzing those cartels to identify the key notes that we can use to defeat the cartels.”
44:37- Administrator Milgram: “Senator, thank you. Thank you for that question. If I if I could let me start by talking a little bit about corruption. Generally, what we see is that corruption is a part of narcotics trafficking worldwide. And there are many examples that we could give DEA as a lead investigative agency on the current case, we just spoke about the Garcia Luna case. We also did the investigation that led to the charges against the current Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro. So let me say two things. The first is that you are correct in saying that the vast majority of precursor chemicals for methamphetamine are coming in at the Mexican ports. I would see it differently on the fentanyl precursors. We see many of those also coming into the airports.”
57:38- Secretary Robinson: “We don't see in fact, precursors largely coming coming from India, to Mexico to make fentanyl almost it's almost exclusively distributors from China.”
59:30- Senator Hagerty: “The number one killer of Americans today of young people between the ages of 18 and 45 is drug overdose. Most of it fentanyl. Coming across our southern border being supplied by China, just to Secretary Robinson mentioned, China's the principal source of these drug precursors that are going to the Mexican cartels”
1:01:03- Senator Hagerty: “Well, I certainly don't see that from Secretary Blinken either. Less than a week before his planned trip to China, before the Secretary's planned trip to China, he Treasury Department rolled out sanctions against Mexican drug cartels. They're involved in the exploitation of fentanyl and precursors that end up in the United States. The Treasury Department in this press release explicitly called out China's role in supplying these precursors to Mexican drug lords.”
1:37:29- Administrator Milgram: “When I talk about DEA is network wide approach, I am including the facilitators in China, whether it's Chinese chemical companies or Chinese nationals, chemical brokers or illicit finance people operating in China, US or Mexico. So just to make sure that I'm accurately explaining our top operational goal is to defeat the two cartels and their criminal networks. And those networks are not just the commander. And those partnerships, we DEA investigation was just unsealed last week. It is a Chinese national Carlos (inaudible), who was a precursor chemical broker operating from Mexico. He's alleged to have basically taken precursor chemicals from China and India, into Mexico so that Jalisco cartel could make (inaudible).”
Migration and Border Security
25:29- Senator Menendez: “Administrator Milburn, is it fair to say that the vast majority of fentanyl trafficking comes into our nation through official ports of entry?”
Administrator Milburn: “Thank you, Senator, for that question. As you know, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the American border and the ports of entry, so DEA is not engaged at the border or the ports of entry. What I can tell you from our cases and the work that we do across the United States and across the world is that virtually all the fentanyl that we are seizing in the United States is coming from Mexico. And we do believe that much of that is coming through ports of entry in California and Arizona. But again, I would defer conversation or questions specifically about the port to DHS.”
Senator Menendez: “Okay. And to the extent that, you know, are they coming to the hands of vulnerable people seeking to flee their country?”
26:22- Administrator Milburn: “I would have to defer that question, Senator to the Department of Homeland Security. Thank you.”
37:09- Senator Risch: “Administrator Milgram. First of all, let me say I want to associate myself with remarks to the chairman regarding our impression of what Mexico is not doing and causing us knowing the problem. And so you're appearing here today in your very clear-eyed description of what's happening and not happening and putting the blame right where it belongs is greatly appreciated. And I think it'll help underscore for the American people. What needs to be done. I think the chairman is laid out very clearly that that there does need to be something done differently or there's going to have to be other other action taken. One of the things that bothers me and I I always I hate to put it in in these terms, but the I cringe every time I hear somebody from the administration say Oh, well, the border secured. There. I don't know. America does not believe that that the border is secure with the 1000s of people that are coming across. Are you do you agree that this this catastrophe we have on the border is contributing to the problem of the drugs coming into the country?
Administrator Milgram: “Senator, thank you so much for that question. The DEA does not operate at the border or the ports of entry.”
47:32- Senator Murphy: “But I also think it's important to understand that the circular trade that happens at the Mexican border with these cartels, it's American guns going south and it's Chinese and Mexican drugs coming north....I congratulate this Congress because in the last budget for the first time we put $50 million dollars, specifically towards the work of interrupting the gun trade, the firearms trade going south. And I would encourage us to understand the sort of full circle of this trade that much of this is what's coming to us, but we are fueling the cartels' ability to run this trade. By allowing these guns to be bought in the United States through background checks exceptions and sent down to Mexico. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
50:50- Dr. Gupta: “Thank you, Senator. You know, the fact is all the elements we have we know that most of the drugs that are coming through us through the ports of entry, and it is through commercial traffic is through private traffic and it's through individuals. We still do not scan enough of that traffic. And that's where the President's talked about having making sure that we have scanners, that we do have technology to place and scan every week that needs scanning, we're not there yet. We want to be there. And that's the whole point. So when we see increased fentanyl, it’s because we're applying technology and I want to see every port have that technology and be able to scan every vehicle that we can coming in. But the problem again does not begin or end at the border. So we got to working at ports in Mexico, which we are with the Coast Guard training CMR the Mexican Navy to make sure that they're doing their job because they're the ones who have the control of the ports there to stop those shipments of precursors but also the prepared product as well.”
49:21- Senator Ricketts: “Most fentanyl enter the US by the international mail direct from China and now it's being shipped from China to Mexico manufacturing pills and illegal labs and then smuggled across the border. The Mexican cartels have taken advantage of the weak border enforcement to surge a flow of fentanyl within the US to the US. With border agents and local law enforcement overwhelmed by the surge of illegal immigration, it's easier than ever for cartels to bring fentanyl into the US. Last year. Last fiscal year the CBP seize 14,700 pounds of fentanyl, and I can tell you is my experience as a governor, in the last two years of my administration, we saw the amounts of fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine double, triple, quintuple as our state patrol confiscated as it came through our state. Until the Biden administration takes action to secure our southern border to stop the flow of illegal immigration and drugs, I'm afraid that this is going to be a bigger problem in the future. So my question is for Dr. Gupta. CBP recorded 156,234 enforcement counters on the border only last month, with this large amount of unregulated activity and movement of people, is it even possible to stop the flow of fentanyl across the border? Do we need to stop the flow of illegal immigration first, it seems like either as more drugs across coming across the border or the Biden administration is not stopping those drugs across coming across the border. What's the Biden administration's plan for this?”
51:52: Senator Ricketts, “Now when I was down at the southern border a couple of times as governor, one of the things in talking to the folks down there they said is that the cartels will push across a group of illegal immigrants in one location that's drawing our resources off and then push the fentanyl in a different location is that so you're saying he was coming through the ports but I when I heard when I was on the boarder, that's not what I was hearing when I was down there.”
1:12:15- Senator Scott: “It seems like to the average family that loses a loved one there's no family in this nation is disconnected from the issue of fentanyl. And we should do more we can do more and I believe it starts with our southern border if we close our southern borders stop fentanyl from coming across.”
1:16:13- Senator Scott: “And technology is one way of doing more but the truth of the matter is until we close our border, this issue continues without the physical impediments to be in the place where we can't have technology where we can't have people. We need to actually do everything in our power to change the course of American history. I think we can do that and we should take it as a bipartisan challenge.”
1:16:53- Senator Menendez: “According to the bipartisan commission on combating synthetic opioid trafficking, Mexican cartels traffic illicit fentanyl into the United States primarily via established ports of entry at the southwestern border. And according to CBP data in fiscal year 22, roughly 85% of all fentanyl seizures occurring at the southwestern border of the United States occurred at ports of entry through tractor trailer trucks and passenger vehicles. So when we talk about doing more, making sure that those ports of entries have the technology that can be invasive, so that 85% of all that fentanyl can be stopped is a huge reality. But I think it's important to know where the process of how the entry of the fentanyl into the United States has taken place. So we can ultimately combat it.”
1:18:02- Senator Kaine: “We should be able to invest more ports of entry to get a lot more fentanyl before it crosses the border. There's sort of a lottery situation where we can only inspect one out of every so many vehicles and the cartels know that and they don't mind somebody getting caught and go into prison as long as they can get a lot of other fentanyl through the ports of border so I'm sure hoping that the President's budget that comes over here next month, ask Congress to do a robust investment in border security at ports of entry because CBP is pioneering technologies that have shown that they can work but we just have to do it with all vehicles and do it in a prompt way so that we can pick up more I want to thank the CBP agents when you look at the amount that's been interdicted either at the border by CBP agents or by the heightened task forces internally.”
1:23:38- Senator Cruz: “Thank you Mr. Chairman, Administrator Milgram. Would you agree that the vast majority of the heroin methamphetamine and fentanyl we see in American communities comes from Mexico?
Administrator Milgram: “Senator, I would say that the vast majority of fentanyl and meth is coming from the two cartels Jalisco and Sinaloa from Mexico. They also transport heroin and cocaine in but I would not say the vast majority of heroin and cocaine I would say the vast majority of fentanyl and meth.”
Senator Cruz: “Would you also agree that the brave men and women working along the southern border and at our ports of entry or border patrol and CBP officers serve a critical role in interdicting drugs before they hit our streets?”
Administrator Milgram: “Senator as I as I, as I say often the the way a DEA were we are the single the only single mission federal law enforcement agency committed to narcotics and to stopping the global supply chain. We play offense and so we're tracking these cartels worldwide. DHS’s responsibility is to maintain the southern border and the ports of entry. Our investigations do tell us that the vast majority of fentanyl is coming in the ports of entry to particularly in California and to in Arizona.”
Senator Cruz: “So is that a yes that you would agree that CBP officers both on the southern border and the ports of entry play a critical role in interdicting drugs?”
Administrator Milgram: “Yes Senator, I believe it's a DHS responsibility and it's a critical one.”
Senator Cruz: “So if we decided to cut the number of border patrol agents dramatically, let's say in half, would you agree that would hurt our efforts to stop illegal drugs?”
Administrator Milgram: “Senator, I would I would defer some of this to the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Mayorkas.”
Senator Cruz: “You're not willing to answer that question?”
Administrator Milgram: “But here's here's what I would say about this. We believe that DHS plays vital-”
Senator Cruz: “Okay, those are talking points. Would cutting the number of CBP agents in half hurt our ability to stop drugs?”
Administrator Milgram: “Now, Senator, I believe that it would.”
Senator Cruz: “Okay, that's effectively what's happened under the Biden administration. Because right now today, more than half of the of the CBP agents are engaged in housekeeping and chauffeurs and babysitting of the 5.5 million illegal aliens who have crossed the border. They're not on the border. They're not at the ports of entry. They're instead processing the highest rate of illegal immigration in history. Now, Democrat members of Congress have the remarkable claim that the open borders under Joe Biden has no impact on the record fentanyl and drugs that are flooding across our borders. Between October 2021 and September 2022 CBP source estimated there were 364,000 "gotaways,” people that ran away at the southern border. And other border patrol officials put the number of gotaways at 1.2 million. Gotaways can vary from terrorists on the terror watch list, in fiscal year 2020 2298 people on the terror watch list were encountered at the southern border that we know of. Or they can be drug dealers carrying drugs, is that correct?”
Administrator Milgram: “Senator I'm going to I'm going to defer questions on the border in the ports of entry to the Department of Homeland Security.“
Senator Cruz: “So the DEA has no view on whether drug dealers crossing the border carry drugs?”
Administrator Milgram: “Senator as I said from our investigations. What we see is that the majority of fentanyl-”
Senator Cruz: “I didn’t ask the majority. I said drug dealers and got aways are carrying drugs. Many of them.”
Administrator Milgram: “Senator, what we see is mostly tractor trailers and personal vehicles-”
Senator Cruz: “So you're sticking to the talking points closely and congratulations to the Democrat talking points that the open borders don't matter with 328,000 or 1.2 million gotaways don't matter. When 100,000 people die last year of drug overdoses. My sister died of a drug overdose just over a decade ago. This is a crisis, but it is a man-made crisis. This administration made a conscious political decision to open the borders and one of the results is they have turned Mexican drug cartels into multi billionaires in 2018. The amount of money cartels made from human trafficking according the New York Times was $500 million. Now, just from human trafficking, the cartels are making $13 billion dollars a year again, according to The New York Times that's a 2,600% increase. Administrator Milgram, the single best thing that happened to Mexican drug cartels in history was Joe Biden becoming president opening the border and making tens of billions of dollars for these vicious criminals. In your judgment is a is it a good thing that these cartels now have tens of billions of dollars from human trafficking and drug trafficking?”
1:28:42: Administrator Milgram: “Senator Cruz, I really appreciate the opportunity to answer your question. And as I've said clearly and will continue to say there are two cartels in Mexico, the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartel that are responsible for the devastation that we are seeing on the streets of our country. It is our top operational priority. To defeat those two cartels and to stop the fentanyl and methamphetamine that-”
Senator Cruz: “Would you answer the question I asked? Is it a good thing for them to have tens of billions of dollars now that they didn't have?
Administrator Milgram: “Senator, we are doing everything we can -”
Senator Cruz: “You're refusing to answer the question. It shouldn't be a hard question-”
Administrator Milgram:” -every amount of money if I if I please, if I could please finish. I understand your point. We believe that the cartels are making billions of dollars on illicit fentanyl. It is a terrible thing. Thank you.”
1:32:00- Senator Merkley: “Administrator Milgram at the bar, I had statistics from the US Sentencing Commission. And I just wanted to see if they fit what you have in the DEA. And they say that the from 2016 to 2021. The five year average was that 90% of the fentanyl seized was from border crossings and interior vehicle checkpoints.”
1:32:34- Senator Merkley: “But the other thing that I found very surprising, was according to the same stats from the Sentencing Commission that 91% of those seizures at the border are from US citizens.”
1:43:01- Senator Van Hollen: “I would like to follow up on some of the questions my colleagues have asked a lot of questions today. And director Gupta, I think it's important that you get back to the committee on this issue of where most of the fentanyl is crossing the border of the United States and how, because the figures we've seen from from the Customs and Border Patrol indicate that 90%, as Senator Merkley indicated, is coming over legal crossing points and interior vehicle checkpoints. You can't confirm that today, is that your testimony?”
Dr. Gupta: “What I can confirm, Senator Van Hollen is that we know that overall majority and 90% and not individual carriers, but overall through the ports of entry is what is coming right in term of the volume.”
Senator Van Hollen: “The volume of fentanyl over 90% is coming through ports of entry.
Dr. Gupta: “Correct. Right.”
Senator Van Hollen: “So I mean, I think that's important because we've had an important discussion on immigration and immigration reform. But fentanyl comes in very potent small quantities potentially right? I mean, a very little bit can kill you.”
1:47:24- Senator Booker: “A lot of my colleagues have seem to be focusing on the real substantive challenges we have at the border. I think it was suggested earlier that we close the border but we know that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MAHAK, my orcas said that it is unequivocally false that fentanyl is being brought to the United States by non citizens encountered between the ports of entry, who are making claims of credible field fear and seeking asylum. The problem at the border is real. It spiked tremendously under the Trump administration relative to the Obama administration. But in a hearing about fentanyl when there's nobody from Customs and Border Patrol here to try to say that this folks coming to our border seeking asylum or seeking escaping challenges to say that that is the center of the Fentanyl crisis is just not true. We have a bipartisan urgency to deal with this crisis. And it's frustrating to me that in this hearing a lot of folks want to try to levy other issues that are not central to dealing with this scourge.”
1:51:17- SenatorBooker: “I just want to reiterate for the record, that folks seeking asylum or fleeing horrific violence, we know that the problem is really coming through ports of entry, overwhelmingly the fentanyl problem in United States, that is the source, right?”
Secretary Robinson: “That's correct.”
1:56:37- Secretary Menendez: “That's why the ports of entry that's why CBP says the points of entry 85%, all coming to tractor trailers and vans. So if we want to meet part of the challenge here, let's focus on where the real challenge really is. It's at ports of entry. And what we do at ports of entry that has sophisticated scanning equipment to stop that there as you fight the two cartels globally. That's how we're going to do that. And then also, we have to challenge China and Mexico. I'm not satisfied in each of the two contacts, that we are doing what we need to do.”
7:20- Senator Risich: “I encourage President Obrador of Mexico to deepen our bilateral security cooperation for the sake of our region security and prosperity.”
12:05- Dr. Gupta: “I want to emphasize that while seizures and arrests are critically important, this problem does not begin or end at the United States border. That's why we're working closely with our international partners especially Mexico, Colombia, India, Canada and others.”
13:09- Dr. Gupta: “At last month's North America Leaders' Summit in Mexico City, for instance, President Biden made illicit fentanyl a main topic of conversation. He pressed President Lopez Obrador to act with a shared sense of responsibility towards the threat of drug trafficking and its associated criminality. And all of us here will work with Mexico to drive results.”
21:44- Secretary Robinson: “Our enduring security cooperation with Mexico is critical to our efforts to address fentanyl trafficking. The US Mexico Bicentennial Framework and the North American Drug Dialogue guide our work to disrupt the synthetic drugs supply chain and promote public health. Both countries seized historic amounts of fentanyl in 2022. I know canines in Mexico helped seize more than 75,000 fentanyl pills from January to August 2022. Meanwhile, Mexico created a watch list to flag chemicals that can be diverted to illicit drug production and expanded this list from 14 to 69 chemicals. We hope Mexico will invest more in combating this synthetic drug threat from prevention, treatment and recovery to the investigations and prosecutions.”
26:30- Senator Menendez: “Let me ask a question maybe you can answer, and that is in Mexico dealing with this problem without a partner in Mexico is not possible. The two cartels that you mentioned emanate from Mexico. It's impossible to tackle fentanyl trafficking without a productive partnership with Mexico. However, there are obstacles to improving cooperation. Mexico's increased politicized national prosecutor's office has shown little appetite to prosecute fentanyl related cases. collusion between cartels and Mexico authorities is a recurring challenge as seen in the ongoing trial of former Security Minister Garcia Luna, and Mexican authorities seem unwilling to acknowledge that the vast majority of fentanyl entering the United States is manufactured in clandestine labs in Mexico. So what is it that we are doing with the Lopez Obrador government to change that reality as you go after these cartels? Is it your assessment that the primary obstacles to improving cooperation with Mexican authorities to combat fentanyl trafficking is that either we don't have a willing partner or that in fact the state itself is infiltrated by the cartels?”
Administrator Milburn: “Senator, thank you for that question. We believe Mexico needs to do more to stop the harm that we're seeing. As I stated, what we're seeing is that these two cartels in Mexico the Sinaloa and the Jalisco cartel are dominating and controlling the entire global supply chain of fentanyl, and they are operating throughout Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel, we believe is operating in 19 of 32 Mexican states and the Jalisco cartel is operating in 23 of 32 Mexican states. What we know is that Mexico in the past worked relentlessly from 2012 to 2015 to disrupt one of the most violent criminal networks in Mexico, the Zetas and they were effective at dismantling that cartel. We want Mexico to do the same thing here to make their top operational priority also to defeat the two cartels that we believe are responsible for the fentanyl as well as the methamphetamine that is responsible for the loss of American lives today.”
29:11- Senator Menendez: “But that's not the president of Mexico's will. Secretary Robinson?”
Secretary Robinson: “Thank you, Senator for that question. I would say that we in the conversations we've had, Mexico is willing to do more. They have actively engaged with us both through the US-Mexico Bicentennial Framework, where they've committed to doing more. They've also committed to doing more in the discussions we've had in the North American Drug Dialogue. What we've been asking Mexico to do is put more resources into this effort, which is you know, obviously for Mexico and the Mexican government, a domestic issue, for us it’s an international issue, a national security issue...”
30:18- Senator Menendez: “I have to be honest with you. I don't see it. I just don't see it. I don't see the willingness I don't see the urgency I don't see the commitment. I don't see the actions that would indicate to me that Mexico is being a good partner. Have you talked to our ambassador there about this? Is he engaged on this issue?”
Secretary Robinson: “Yes, yes. And yes to both questions. Well,”
Senator Menendez: “I hope he's vigorously engaged on the issue. Because, you know, we start with China and precursor criminals. We need to create an international coalition that pressures China, they, they they promote themselves as a big counter narcotics nation. Quite on the contrary, as from my perspective, and then we have our next door neighbor, who this is a critical issue and I just don't see it happening. And I have to be honest with you, if the good overtures to try to get them to act is not working, then there has to be other considerations. I just think that we are we we work with our Mexican friends with kid gloves on this issue. And I just as fundamentally why don't know how many more lives have to be lost for Mexico to get engaged? If this was in the reverse, they'd be all over the US, President Lopez Obrador would be all over us in this regard. Lastly, can you work? Minister, you can your people work freely with Mexican counterparts? Are you concerned about the information the intelligence the security of what you're trying to do with your counterparts in Mexico?”
31:59- Administrator Milgram: “Senator Thank you. Thank you for the question. And there are three ways in which we believe that we would like to see Mexico cooperate far more with DEA with United States. The first and this is under the Bicentennial framework. The first is information sharing. We are not getting information on fentanyl seizures. We are not getting information on seizures or precursor chemicals and that kind of information, as you rightly state is vital for both countries, both for Mexico and for the United States. Second, we are very concerned about the clandestine labs across Mexico and we have offered and continue to offer and stand ready to work in partnership with Mexican authorities to dismantle and take down those clandestine labs throughout Mexico jointly and to be of any service that we can. And finally the last point you just mentioned the Garcia Luna trial, which is a DEA investigation. The trial is ongoing in the Eastern District of New York this week. One of the things we are looking for Mexico to do is to arrest and extradite more individuals to the United States. Last year Mexico extradited 24 drug related defendants to the United States, but there are 232 drug related defendants that are awaiting extradition. So this is also a critical part of our work. And again, we're working globally. It across the world as we're now tracking these cartels in 40 different countries, but it is vital that we be able to work in Mexico as well.”
43:44- Senator Murphy: “I understand that our witnesses have to be diplomatic in the way that they talk about Mexico, but let's be honest, at best, Mexico is not taking this crisis seriously enough, and it worse the Mexican government or at least significant parts of it, are either looking the other way or complicit with the cartels. That's just the truth. To answer Senator Menendez question from before it is actually true that the vast majority of fentanyl that's coming into the United States at the southern border is coming through the ports as the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds our border operations. That's why we are putting increased amounts of resources to catch it there and I don't necessarily know the DEA should defer to DHS on that question. It's obviously your job to know where and how the drugs are coming across the border. But it is also true that the ports in Mexico are a big problem as well. And I just don't think it's realistic that we're going to defeat the Mexican drug cartels in the next five years. Maybe you think differently. But concentrating efforts on those ports on the Mexican ports, which are often controlled by those cartels, I think is a interesting place to start and so, Administrator look I wanted to ask you that question. What is our level of integration with Mexican authorities to unwind the corruption that exists at the ports? And is that a logical place for us to try to target our resources given that that's where most of the precursor is showing up and being transferred to the cartels?”
1:44:36- Senator Van Hollen: “Which gets to the question of, of why we've heard about China's involvement with the precursors and we absolutely need to insist that they engage in that conversation with us. But it also indicates that the grid, the drug cartels in Mexico, are out of control. And it would suggest, as you said, Administrator Milgrom that that not enough is being done by the government. of Mexico to crack down on these cartels and that in the past when there has been a will to do it. We've seen results is that I understand that was something you stated earlier. Is that right?”
Administrator Milgram: “Yes, Senator, we believe that Mexico was very effective at taking down the Zetas cartel in between 2012 and 2015. And that they absolutely I have the capability and would welcome working with them to take down these two cartels.”
Senator Van Hollen: ”So when you raise this with them and you point to their earlier success and determination to take down cartels and point out that that's not happening now, what is their response?”
Administrator Milgram: “When we when we work with and I would defer a little bit to Secretary Robinson.”
Secretary Robinson: “Senator I what I would say is I think the Mexican government is very aware of the mal-influence of the cartels in Mexico. They have resource issues. But but the Lopez Obrador government has made some decisions on on law enforcement that have engaged the military at ports of entry. There are other parts of the Mexican government that can definitely do more. And we will work in with our ambassador in our and our team in Mexico City, push them to do more.”
Senator Van Hollen: “All right. Well, I think, again, if you look at their past success compared to what's happening now, it does indicate to me anyway, that if they're determined to do it, they can do a better job than they are now.”
About the Author
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more