Posts Tagged ‘SB 1070’

Policy solutions to border woes skew real issues

Amanda J. Crawford is contributing to The Arizona Republic’s 36-hour election blog at Here is one of her posts on border security and drug policy.

There is no doubt that this election has been profoundly shaped by concerns about border security. But what is amazing to me is how well politicians in this state have been able to skew the real issues and shift the discussion away from solving the most pressing problems.

All year, especially since the murder of rancher Robert Krentz, I watched as a dubious logic has emerged as gospel, spouted from state leaders across the political spectrum: the threat of violence from Mexican drug smuggling means we must step up immigration enforcement or pass national immigration reform.  It was this logic that led to the passage and popularity of SB1070 — a measure that may succeed in getting rid of some immigrants but which does absolutely nothing to to stop drug cartel violence.

If we really want to combat drug cartel violence, we should be talking about drug prohibition which provides the profit to drug cartels and loopholes in our gun laws that help arm the cartels. There is not a single leader in our state who has stepped forward to discuss these difficult issues.

There is big political payoff in talking about immigration, and bringing up ideas like legalizing marijuana (which provides 60 percent of Mexican cartel profits) or cracking down on undocumented gun sales at our state gun shows are sure ways to see your poll numbers fall. But with 30,000 people dead in Mexico they are issues our nation can no longer afford to ignore. After the election, we should demand that our leaders rise to the task.

The violence in Mexico should be a wake-up call for policy changes in the United States. But let’s have an honest conversation that focuses on the right policies that get at the root causes.

Crawford, a former Republic political reporter, is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute, freelance writer and editor of the drug war blog She is also president of the Arizona League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, a non-profit, non-partisan environmental group.

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Profit vs. justice: Private prisons, SB1070 & the hijacking of criminal justice

NPR today reported a disturbing tale about how private prison lobbyists helped to craft and push for Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, to help pad their bottom lines. If you haven’t heard/read the story by my old friend Laura Sullivan about how capitalism – not justice or public safety – may have motivated the law, check it out here.

The beginning is haunting:

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

“The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger,” Nichols said. “He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman.”

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

“They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate.”

But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

“They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it,” Nichols said.

That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.

The story reveals campaign contributions from private prison corporations to SB1070 sponsors and says prison lobbyists helped craft the measure during meetings with the special-interest-driven American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Though threads of this story, including ties between Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s staffers and private prison firms, had already been out there, Sullivan connects the dots more clearly than before.

Arizona Republic reporter Casey Newton has been poking holes in the story all day via Twitter, noting, among other things, that SB1070 had been several years in the making. And legislators like House Speaker Kirk Adams have blasted it. Adams, also via Twitter, called the story “pathetic” and a “gross distortion.” (Newton, by the way, has my old job covering the state legislature and prison system at the paper. While there I wrote about legislators’ private prison connections and the corporate influence of ALEC.)

But I think, no matter how much of a role private prison lobbyists played in drafting and pushing SB1070 specifically (I definitely believe there was a lot of fear and hate motivating the law, too!), the NPR story today provides disturbing insight into how laws are made and how the administration of justice in our country has become a profit-generating industry.

Over the last few decades, our system of justice has been radically transformed. The number of people in prison has skyrocketed, primarily due drug war laws and mandatory minimum prison sentences passed by politicians. Decisions about who goes to prison and for how long are now made, for the most part, by politicians who set the rules and prosecutors who decide the charges. Judges, who once were charged with making sure punishment fit the crime, have had their hands tied by legislative restrictions.

People who support that shift in control over the justice system point out that politicians are accountable to the people in a way that judges are not. And, indeed, efforts by politicians to win over the electorate with “tough on crime” campaigns are just about the only sure-fire tactic in politics. Political careers have ended because the person couldn’t shake the allegation that they were “soft on crime” (Michael Dukakis is a famous example) and been made by pledges to impose extreme punishment on the criminal pariah of the day (SB1070 = illegal immigrants). That pressure alone has created a system of justice that doesn’t always make a lot of sense: drug users sometimes serve longer prison sentences than rapists. Perverts in Arizona who look at kiddie porn often serve longer than the creeps who actually molest children.

But politicians are also far more susceptible to the influences of corporations and special interest. The multi-billion dollar private prison industry in our country realizes profits for each additional person locked up and for every additional day they are behind bars. It doesn’t strain credulity to believe that they push for things like SB1070 and drug laws that help their business model.

The reality is that our criminal code and criminal justice system has been skewed in the service of political points and corporate profit — and that is impacting the fabric of our society and many individual lives. That reality should be horrifying in itself: it goes far beyond just SB1070 and the NPR story and speaks volumes about the institutional challenges facing meaningful criminal justice and drug policy reform.


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This week in drugs (Oct. 8, 2010)

The U.S. is hypocritical about drug policy? Say it ain’t so! In a recent interview with the Associated Press in which he touted the successes of the drug war in reducing violence in Tijuana, Mexican President Felipe Calderon blasted the U.S. for pushing his country to escalate the drug war while not doing enough to combat drug use by U.S. citizens. He called government surveys showing that consumption of drugs in the U.S. is up “truly disappointing” and said California’s upcoming vote to legalize marijuana is part of a “terrible inconsistency” in U.S. drug policy:

“They have exerted pressure and demanded for decades that Mexico and other countries control, reduce and fight drug trafficking, and there is no discernible effort to reduce the consumption of drugs in the United States,” Calderon said.

While Calderon criticized Prop. 19, a major U.S. Latino political group endorsed it this week. According to The Sacramento Bee, LULAC’s California director, Argentina Dávila-Luévano said prohibition is not working for Latinos or U.S. society:

“Far too many of our brothers and sisters are getting caught in the cross-fire of gang wars here in California and the cartel wars south of our border. It’s time to end prohibition, put violent, organized criminals out of business and bring marijuana under the control of the law.”

Accusations of abuse and injustice by Mexican law enforcement officers continue. Reuters reported this week that poor residents of Ciudad Juarez complain that they are being unfairly targeted and unjustly arrested by corrupt police who use them as scapegoats while allowing powerful drug lords to operate freely. To combat police corruption, Calderon is pushing to do away with municipal police forces.

Meanwhile, both tourism and the economy in Mexico seem to be doing well. The Los Angeles Times reports that foreign visitors to Mexico jumped nearly 20 percent this summer over last year. And, according to CNN, the Mexican stock market is up 6.7 percent year-to-date, compared to just a 5 percent gain in the Dow Jones industrial average.

The search resumed this morning for the body of a man presumed dead after his wife said he was shot in the head by cartel-connected pirates while jet skiing on a lake on the Texas-Mexico border. U.S. officials, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have criticized Mexican officials for not doing enough to find the man’s body, the AP reports.

In Arizona, a forensic test appears to give credence to the story of a Pinal County Deputy who claims he was wounded in a shoot-out with drug cartels. The Arizona Republic reports that tests by the Arizona Department of Public Safety did not find any gun powder on his shirt, which would have supposedly been present if he had shot himself. Some experts and critics had speculated that Deputy Louie Puroll made up the story to bolster public support for Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070. At a press conference this week, Puroll lashed out at critics and said: “I can’t imagine why anybody would shoot themselves.” The fact that people did believe it possible that he would shoot himself is important. It says far more about the level of rancor and insanity in the border security debate than it does about this individual deputy.

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This week in drugs (Sept. 24, 2010)

A stunning investigation by the Phoenix New Times this week sheds doubt on the story of a Pinal County, Ariz., deputy who claimed he was injured in a desert shoot-out this spring with drug smugglers armed with AK-47s. The incident came during the heated debate over Arizona’s tough new immigration law, SB1070, and it helped propel outspoken Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to national limelight in support of the measure and in blasting the Obama administration over border security. A panel of pathologists and other experts poked major holes in the deputy’s story. (The New Times also quotes an investigator who points out that it never made much sense for this incident — purportedly a shoot-out with criminals — to be used to ratchet up the immigration debate.)

Meanwhile, another Arizona politician’s distortions about drug cartel crime could lead to Zombie marches in Phoenix. A couple Facebook groups have popped up recently connected to Gov. Jan Brewer’s bogus claims that the Arizona desert has been beset by headless bodies. Headless Halloween in AZ – Just say “NO” to Jan Brewer pledges to stage “headless” events throughout Phoenix to oppose Brewer’s campaign for governor.

Facebook is still not playing ball with the national marijuana legalization campaign Just Say Now.  The group this week launched its on-line store, where it will raise money for and awareness of the campaign with hemp T-shirts, pro-legalization buttons, etc. The all-powerful social media site, which already had rejected the group’s campaign ads because they included the image of a pot leaf, won’t let them advertise the store either. The campaign says it created ads with the “obviously offensive plant leaf” blurred out, but they were still rejected.

A new poll out this week has California’s Proposition 19 to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana favored to win. Public Policy Polling found the measure was favored by voters 47 percent to 38 percent, with a remarkable 14 percent of voters undecided. In an analysis on their blog, the pollsters noted that the measure polls along less partisan lines than other issues in the election. While it did better among Democrats (56 percent in favor; 28 percent opposed), it still had sizable support among Republicans (30 percent in favor; 57 percent opposed). “That’s a lot more division within the ranks of both parties than we’re seeing on a lot of stuff,” the pollsters wrote. They also noted that enthusiasm for the measure among voters under the age of 45 could help drive turnout for Democratic candidates. If gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown  and Senate candidate Barbara Boxer win “they may have the marijuana initiative to thank for driving turnout from folks who would otherwise have been drop off voters in a midterm,” the pollsters wrote. (More on this poll and past polls on the initiative from The Atlantic.)

The Obama administration both opposes legalization of marijuana and has “a dubious view of medical marijuana,” a drug policy adviser told those gathered at a drug court conference in Montana this week. According to the Billings Gazette, Kevin Sabet, special adviser for policy at the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said legalizing marijuana will lead to more use, more arrests for drug-related behavior and won’t deal a heavy enough blow to drug gangs. He added that the Obama administration favors an approach to marijuana and the drug war that combines treatment with law enforcement.

In Mexico, where the fall out from the drug war is most acute, the murder this week of the mayor of the small Mexican town of Doctor Gonzalez has raised the death toll to 10 Mexican mayors assassinated in the past year.

Journalists, who have been a significant target of cartel violence, are trying to figure out what to do. After last Thursday’s murder of a 21-year-old photojournalist, the newspaper El Diario de Juarez ran two front-page editorials (seen here) directed to the drug gangs of the city. According to the BBC, the newspaper asked the cartels: “We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect.” With more than 30 journalists dead in Mexico since 2006, El Diario says there is no story worth dying for anymore.

Last Saturday in Ciudad Juarez, police discovered the body of the photographer’s alleged murderer, himself executed and beheaded in a white Nissan Altima. The man’s head was left on the roof of the car with a copy of El Diario de Juarez on the dashboard. The body was found inside the car. According to Borderland Beat, Mexican police say the message left at the gruesome scene identifies the body as the photographer’s killer.

Borderland Beat also reports that similarly displayed bodies were found yesterday in Acapulco. The bodies of the men were found seated in the back seat with their heads on the roof of the car. A message left behind said, “This happened to us for transporting guns.” One of the men was a native of Texas.

And the flow of drugs across the border continues, as do efforts to stop it. Customs and Border Protection reported seizing more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana this week in the Tucson sector alone along with millions of dollars worth of heroin, cocaine and meth being smuggled elsewhere. Check it out.


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Crawford on Guns: Gun laws and trafficking to cartels

Amanda Crawford with an AR-15 type assault rifle at a Phoenix pawn shop. (Photo by Laura Segall.)

Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in drug war violence in Mexico in the last four years, sometimes within yards of the U.S. border.

This isn’t some remote war in a foreign land. It isn’t the product of cultural clashes, or a political uprising, or a corrupt government. This is a war of our doing: Mexico’s drug cartels are fueled by the consumption of illicit drugs on the U.S. black market. The Mexican government’s crackdown is funded, in part, by U.S. drug war money, with law enforcement officers trained and assisted by the U.S. government. And the drug cartels are armed with guns purchased on the U.S. consumer market.

For the October issue of Phoenix Magazine I looked at the significant role Phoenix is playing as a “gun locker” for the drug cartels. (Because of the relative lack of state restrictions, Arizona and Texas are now the primary suppliers of U.S. guns to Mexico.) The story is now available on news stands. You can read the feature story,“The Iron River” here.

I also went “undercover” at the Phoenix gun show, where I could have bought a dozen AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles with no background check or any paperwork whatsoever. Read the on-line exclusive “Get Your Guns” here. (In case you missed it, I also blogged about the gun show in July.)

Some things I learned that you might find surprising:

  • The federal government does not keep records or maintain a database of gun purchases. While the federal government requires licensed gun dealers to conduct an instant background check to look for felonies, they are barred by law from retaining that information.
  • If authorities find a gun at a crime scene in the U.S. or Mexico, they have to go the whole way back to the manufacturer and trace the gun through the distribution chain to the store where it was sold as new. Since many manufacturers are foreign, this process can take days or even weeks. If the gun was resold by the original owner, the trail often goes cold here. That’s why pawn shops are major sources of crime guns: it is really hard to trace them.
  • If authorities want to know what guns someone purchased, they have to go store to store looking through paper files that are organized chronologically by date of purchase. In the case I wrote about, the ATF went store to store with a photograph of the suspected trafficker, hoping to find workers who would remember when he bought a gun.
  • There is no background check or paperwork required for the purchase of ammunition in Arizona. You must be at least 18 years old and a legal resident, but they aren’t required to check — and they don’t. Think about this: You can go into a gun store and buy thousands of rounds of ammunition, including 100-round drum magazines for assault rifles, and there is no paper trail. But if you purchase cold or allergy medicines in Arizona, they scan your driver’s license and that information is stored in an electronic database.
  • If you buy two handguns at the same store in a five-day period, federal law requires the gun dealer to report the sale to the ATF. But you can buy as many assault rifles or other long guns as you want and there is no report. Authorities say it is not uncommon for someone to walk into a gun shop in Phoenix and buy 10 AK-47 type rifles at one time. Many gun dealers agree this is illogical. Several law enforcement officials told me that extending the multiple sales report to rifles would be the single biggest thing we could do to slow gun trafficking to Mexico. In the case I wrote about the guy got caught because he messed up and bought more than one hand gun.
  • Gun shows in Arizona and many other states exploit an exception in federal law that allows guns to be sold in private sales without a background check or any paperwork required. I could have loaded my little car with assault rifles at the gun show without any paper trail whatsoever. (Check out the links for the gun show stories above for more details.)
  • There is no “gun trafficking” crime per se. Under federal law, people are charged with lying on the federal background check form. Even if the guns can be traced to deaths in Mexico this charge usually carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison — lower than the sentences for drug smuggling.
  • The federal government has an amazing amount of data on gun crimes and trafficking, and you can’t see it. Fearing law suits against gun manufacturers, the gun lobby won a special exception that blocks the ATF from sharing this information with you or your elected representatives.

Look, I’m not a foe of the 2nd amendment. I’ve been around guns plenty. I’ve fired guns, and I’m not a bad shot. My ex-husband practically had an arsenal under our bed, and I was O.K. with that. (And gun advocates note: I haven’t even talked about the assault weapons ban. I understand it doesn’t make a lot of sense to ban guns based on how bad-ass they look.)

But the situation in Mexico has become dire. I have grown increasingly frustrated with conservatives howling about violent drug cartels at the border and then talking about immigration enforcement and SB1070 as the solution. Even if every Mexican immigrant were a drug mule (And just to be clear, Gov. Brewer: they are not) it is the demand for drugs and the easy supply of weapons that is perpetuating the violence. Do we really only care about the violence in Mexico if it spills across some arbitrary line in the desert? (If you believe Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, his deputies are already being outgunned on U.S. soil by the cartels.)

The reality is that talking about gun laws is just about as taboo as talking about drug prohibition. When I started asking about the inconsistencies in federal law and special exceptions to public records won by the gun lobby, a high-ranking ATF official pulled me aside to caution me: The NRA will come after you, he said. I put in repeated requests for comment to the office of Gov. Jan Brewer, an NRA darling. She talks an awful lot about the threat drug cartels pose to Arizona, but she has been M.I.A. on the issue of gun trafficking. (Gov. Brewer and Mr. Senseman: I’m still waiting for a call back.)

The reality is that we need to be talking about this. Right now. In Arizona and across the nation. We need to be having intellectually honest conversations about the drug war, including marijuana prohibition and overly harsh incarceration policies that are filling our prisons and bankrupting our states. And we need to be talking about guns.

I will explore some of these issues more in future posts and articles. And I’ll be on AZ Family Channel 3 TV next week. In the meantime, check out the story David Robles wrote for this site about a recent ATF gun trafficking sweep in Phoenix last week here.


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This Week in Drugs (Sept. 10, 2010)

by David E. Robles

Gunmen killed 25 people in drug war-related attacks in Ciudad Juarez today, making it the single deadliest day in the Mexican city in the past two years. According to the Associated Press, 15 people were killed the day before in a series of attacks on four homes in three hours.

Ten days after his arrest, U.S. born kingpin Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal has provided a wealth of information to Mexican authorities about the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. National Public Radio reported that the videotapes of his declarations have been pored over by the Mexican media for days. Valdez’s case is unique because most other kingpins have been killed or have been less willing to talk to police after their arrest. He is also the only U.S. citizen known to have risen so high in a Mexican cartel. Read The New York Times story about his rise from Texas high school football star to Mexican drug kingpin here.

As border violence and instability increases, factories along the border, known as maquiladoras, have seen a sharp decline in investors, bringing more economic woes to an already war-torn area of northern Mexico. Because of drug war violence, 20 percent of members in the Reynosa Association of Maquiladoras and Manufacturers had to put projects on indefinite hold or cancel them entirely. The group’s president, Dan McGrew, told My San Antonio, “We’re not being targeted, but we are collateral damage.”

Mexican journalists have also been caught up in the violence as Mexican criminal enterprises attempt to censor news of the drug war. Upwards of 30 journalists have been murdered or have gone missing since President Felipe Calderón took office.  Joel Simon, executive director of The Committee to Protect Journalists, says “Unless the Mexican government takes bold action, the narcos will continue to define what is news and what is not. That is no way to win the drug war.”

The debate over pot policy in Mexico has intensified as California weighs legalizing marijuana for recreational use. A Washington Post article looked at the differences in the way marijuana is viewed in the U.S. and Mexico as the legalization debate escalates. Although some prominent Mexican figures such as former Mexican President Vicente Fox have spoken in favor of legalizing marijuana in Mexico in order to undermine the drug profits for the criminal enterprises, there are many who say legalization will not effectively eliminate the crime seen today. (In case you missed it: in an open email to CrawfordOnDrugs earlier this week, Cameron H. Holmes of the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance argued that he does not believe the economics of legalization in the U.S. would work to undercut the price of illicit drugs in Mexico. Of course, many others, like the national Just Say Now campaign disagree, at least when it comes to marijuana.)

Nine former Drug Enforcement Agency administrators are urging President Obama to sue the state of California if voters there pass Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana for recreational use by people 21 years old and older. The former DEA officials wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that the law would challenge federal authority and that it should be treated just as the controversial SB1070 immigration law in Arizona.

Is legalization the answer to the drug war? Should President Obama sue if Proposition 19 passes? What do you think?


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The real threat: Cartels could disrupt economy of entire Western Hemisphere

What’s the worst thing that could happen if drug cartel violence in Mexico is left unchecked? The collapse of the Mexican government? Increased violence in U.S. border towns?

Cameron H. Holmes, staff director of the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance, says cartels have the potential to disrupt the economy of the entire Western Hemisphere. And he thinks our political leaders just don’t get it.

Holmes will retire soon from his post as senior litigation counsel in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to lead the Alliance, a quasi-governmental agency formed earlier this year to provide assistance to law enforcement along the border in combatting cartel activities and stopping the flow of guns and money into Mexico. The Alliance is funded with the settlement proceeds from a lawsuit against Western Union led by Holmes’ boss Arizona Attorney General (and Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Terry Goddard, which accused the company of facilitating money transfers from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels. (Read more about the Alliance here and the Western Union settlement here.)

Last month, I interviewed Holmes for a story on gun trafficking that will appear in the October issue of Phoenix Magazine. The conversation was among the most thoughtful I have had about the drug war, how we got to this bloody moment in time and what we should be worried about in the future. Here are highlights from that conversation* – think of it as Mexican Drug War 101, from Holmes’ perspective:

The major change in the drug war in Mexico in the last three years is the result of a change in strategy and methods by the drug cartels, Holmes says. Previously there had been an “uneasy truce”: the cartels paid off Mexican law enforcement to look the other way. But now, the cartels want absolute power. This has manifested itself in attacks on police stations and politicians, car bombs, beheadings and attacks on the general public.

The cartels have diversified their business to gain all manner of control: diverting petroleum, hijacking cargo from trains and trucks, extorting insurance companies. Essentially, they have taken on the characteristics of a classic mafia organization or warlord, not of a traditional drug trafficking organization. Many young men are attracted to the border area to work in the maquiladoras (the factories that have sprung up on the Mexican side of the border in recent years) and immigrate into the U.S. This gives the drug cartels an unlimited supply of young men to recruit as soldiers. In the past, the drug trafficking organizations were familial. Now, they see their men as expendable.

The all-out war we see in Mexico is enabled by this unlimited supply of mercenaries combined with a steady stream of weapons from the U.S. “The only way this war for regional control can continue to function is with a continuous supply of high-powered weapons,” he says. Yet U.S. politicians have done little to really clamp down on gun trafficking to Mexico by passing common sense laws such as restrictions on military grade weapon sales and sales at gun shows, instituting common sense reporting requirements (like of multiple purchases of assault rifles) or lifting gun lobby-pushed restrictions on the ATF that limit the agency’s investigative abilities.

Holmes notes that the Democrats control Congress and the White House, but they haven’t been willing to take on the gun lobby. “They haven’t got the guts, and I don’t think they understand how important it is to the future of our hemisphere,” he says. He calls the inaction on gun trafficking by Congress “disgraceful.” “Here is an opportunity to do something about the weapons fueling the Mexican criminal enterprise and they have done zero. They allowed previous restrictions on assault weapons to expire.”

Holmes says he does not think U.S. residents or political leaders fully grasp the significant threat posed by the increasing power of the Mexican cartels. “They are in a position to blockade trade between the U.S. and Mexico,” which would disrupt the economy of the entire hemisphere, he says. “I don’t think the general public of the U.S. has any idea how threatening the situation is or that Congress adequately appreciates it. I think that time is very short … that we and our contemporaries have to reverse this trend.”

Instead of focusing on gun trafficking, Holmes notes that politicians nationally and in Arizona have instead focused on immigrants and illegal immigration. “It doesn’t make the least bit of difference how many immigrants are in the United States at any given time to make the threat of Mexican criminal enterprises a clear and present danger to the United States’ hemispheric interests,” Holmes says. The cartels “don’t need to cross the border. They could stay in Mexico, throttle U.S.-Mexico trade and our hemispheric economy is dramatically disrupted . . . . What’s going to happen next is the representative government in Mexico is under question about whether it can survive.”

“We are spending our energy worrying about individuals crossing the border. We should be worried if there is going to be a Mexican economy five years from now,” he says. “It is tragic. We’re not doing nearly enough, and we are not succeeding.”

[*Author's Note: Ideally, I would have posted a verbatim transcript of my conversation with Holmes. However, my digital recorder died (and not just the batteries) right before the interview. As I always told my journalism students at Arizona State: this is why you take good notes.]


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Secure the border … then what? Immigration reform doesn’t stop drug violence

For weeks I have struggled with what I have perceived as a major disconnect in the political rhetoric surrounding immigration reform. Since the murder of rancher Robert Krentz in Southeastern Arizona this spring, a common logic has emerged: the threat of violence from Mexican drug smuggling means we must secure the border and step up immigration enforcement or pass national immigration reform.  This is a logic that has been spouted, albeit with different policy objectives, from state leaders ranging from Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. But I just don’t get it: How does immigration reform or enforcement of any flavor – amnesty or guest worker programs or mass deportations or increased prosecutions – do anything at all to stop drug violence?

Gov. Jan Brewer

Recently Brewer has offered unfathomable explanations about how the rise in drug cartel violence in Mexico is connected with SB1070, Arizona’s new immigration law that requires police to check someone’s status if they have reasonable suspicion the person is here illegally. Earlier this month, she said the law was needed to stop “the beheadings.” Then last week, she made the bogus claim that most illegal immigrants smuggle drugs.

Authorities suspect Krentz’ murderer may have been a Mexican in the U.S. illegally. But more significantly, they suspect he or she was likely tied to drug traffickers. There are a lot of people — immigrants and citizens alike — who are involved in the drug trade, and some of them are violent. Would a mass round up of illegal Mexican immigrants net some with ties to drug traffickers? Maybe. So would a mass round up of U.S. citizens at a mall.

Brewer’s outrageous assertions should shed light on the intellectual dishonesty that has shrouded this entire discussion in recent months. There is no doubt that our nation needs to fix our broken immigration system and enforce immigration laws. But if the problem you are trying to solve for is drug cartel violence, immigration reform is not the answer.

Drug trafficking exists because of U.S. demand and policies. Prohibition of any kind creates a black market that empowers criminal syndicates to flourish. The insatiable demand in the U.S. for illegal drugs makes that black market very profitable. Even if we were able to completely seal the U.S.-Mexico border (which is financially and practically impossible) we would just move the drug problem somewhere else — like our interdiction efforts against Colombian cartels empowered cartels in Mexico.

The violence in Mexico should be a wake-up call for policy changes in the United States. But let’s have an honest conversation that focuses on the right policies that get at the root causes of the problem.

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