America’s Demand For Drugs Is Fueling Illegal Immigration

A new feature in the New York Times describes in detail the steady stream of drugs, money and guns that cycle back and forth between the United States and Mexico. 


They’re all connected, says Doug Coleman, a DEA official based in Phoenix, Arizona. Politicians can blame the drug cartels all they want for supplying “the poison that’s killing our children,” but everything boils down to Americans’ insatiable demand for drugs.

“Our appetite for drugs in the country is having an impact on the south and driving people from those countries,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. Instead, tough-on-crime politicians harp on about building walls to keep the drugs out.

Sending drugs to the U.S. has become a $64 billion-a-year business, according to the Times. This money then goes to purchasing guns and bribing law enforcement and politicians, both south of the border and in the states.

It’s worth noting that most guns in Mexico come from the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014, 70% of the firearms seized in Mexico were traced to the U.S. (about 73,000 guns), according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

But to get a hold of their profits in the first place, drug cartels must find a way to transport their illicit earnings from the states. Authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border say this plays a large role in our issue with illegal immigration. 

Not only are border patrol officers trying to keep out the “bad hombres,” they’re struggling to stop the flow of illicit drug profits and guns heading south—made possible by “Americans’ voracious appetite for illicit drugs,” as the Times's Ron Nixon and Fernanda Santos wrote.

It’s common for drug cartels to pay someone to transport cash—their proceeds from selling heroin, meth, and more—from stateside to Mexico. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized about $300 million on the border since 2008—which they say represents just a fraction of the actual amount of money heading south.

By the end of this past March, CBP intercepted $18.6 million that was destined for Mexico. Law enforcement lacks the resources to really put a dent on cartels’ profits. Instead, the cycle continues. 

“I wish I had a unit dedicated to checking vehicles going south for guns and money,” Pete Bachelier, a CBP officer, told the NYT. "I just don't have the manpower."

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