In the wake of President Obama's announcement that the government would stop deporting and grant work permits to some undocumented immigrant students, the Democrats are taking a victory lap even as the Republicans fume. But as the Mexican presidential elections loom on July 1, and the fate of that country hangs in the balance, politicians on both sides of the aisle need to open their eyes. For all their posturing on illegal immigration, they are calmly ignoring one of its root causes: the unending violence in Mexico. It's bizarre, and unwise.
The statistics are chilling. In 2011, there were more than 16,000 drug-related murders in Mexico, including the torture and killings of women and children, and it is estimated that more than 50,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderón began a military assault on cartels in late 2006. The numbers are expected to be slightly lower for 2012 but that's like saying that a cancer patient will die in six months rather than five. Just a few weeks ago, 49 decapitated and mutilated bodies were found lying on a highway running from the northern city of Monterrey to the U.S. border.
Here is what is even more macabre: this is now commonplace in Mexico. Bodies hanging from bridges with signs of intense and gruesome torture, dismemberments, decapitations, are all just par for the course in a country going over the precipice of civilization. No one is safe and nothing is sacred anymore.
Mexican drug cartels have been waging an increasingly bloody war to control smuggling routes, the local drug market and extortion rackets, including shakedowns of migrants seeking to reach the U.S.; and now even journalists, federal police officers, army officers and prosecutors are routinely abducted, tortured and killed. Not only that, but what was previously a war between drug cartels has now escalated to encompass innocents -- people whose only fault is to walk the streets of their town or to celebrate the birthdays of their children. The police and army are unable to prevent the violence, and the government is corrupt, leaving the citizens at the mercy of the gangsters.
This is outrageous.
The U.S. has expressed support for the Mexican government's war against the drug trade but taken few practical steps to address the issue. The always dubious Fast and Furious program, charmingly dubbed gun-walking, is now the subject of a national scandal. The reality is that the U.S. really wants Mexico to curb the supply side of the equation on its own while providing the single biggest market for drugs to the cartels. It is an impossible situation for the Mexicans.
This must change urgently or within a few years Mexico will turn into a mecca for all types of illegal activity, including organized crime and even terrorism. Never mind the moral consideration here (which is not small), even from a purely selfish standpoint, the U.S. is shooting itself in the foot by ignoring the growing crisis across its border.
And as the problem there gets worse, you can bet that it will infect us too. The drug trade knows no boundaries and once the cartels have effectively taken over Mexico, they will turn their sights on their rich neighbor. There is already plenty of "spillover" crime, but I predict it will get exponentially worse if something is not done soon. American cities may be better prepared and the police better armed than in Mexico, but that is in the absence of the total chaos that exists in that country; once the ferocity and violence of the drug cartels is directed squarely at us, it will be a different story.
So what the can U.S. do to forestall this disaster? For one thing, we must address the demand side of the equation. Nothing would reduce the power of the drug cartels more than a shrinking market for their product. The focus in the U.S. has been on catching the dealers. That is worthwhile, but cracking down on drug users will be an even bigger deterrent. Drug use may not be murder but neither is it a noble crime -- it is a choice made by the user that is ruining the lives of innocent people across the border. If users have to pay a heavy price for patronizing drugs, they might think twice. There are plenty of laws on the books to do this but enforcement is key.
Secondly, the U.S. must consider sending more support in the form of funds, technology and troops to Mexico to help fight the cartels. It may be a deeply unpopular proposition but one that is very much in our own best interests. It is clear that the Mexican government does not have the willpower, the resources or the ability to win against a better-financed and more ruthless enemy. Expecting the Mexicans to take care of their own problem is naïve and a sure loser. Even if law enforcement in Mexico was capable of taking down the cartels, corruption within the judiciary, the police force and army makes it highly unlikely that it will actually happen.
If we are willing to send troops into battle in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect our national security interests, and even into Libya, why should we have such a problem doing the same thing for our next door neighbor? As I pointed out earlier, if the violence in Mexico goes unchecked, it will spill over to the U.S.; and at that point will become a national security matter. So why wait till the situation gets worse before doing anything? The sooner we intervene, the better our chances of victory. Every passing day makes the drug cartels stronger and the Mexican government weaker; in a few more years the infrastructure there will collapse.
Finally, if we are truly worried about illegal immigration then we should pay attention to the conditions that makes Hispanics leave their homeland to find sanctuary in America in the first place. Illegal immigration from Mexico may have declined for now but I can promise you that trend will not last if the problems there are not addressed. Until our neighbor becomes a stable and safe country once more, our own safety and interests will remain in jeopardy.
If our politicians are going to agree on something, they should agree on that.