You Won't Believe How Much Money the Mexican Cartels Make Every Year

Three retired U.S. Border Patrol agents recently released a public letter outlining a distorted argument that goes something like this: Because drug cartels and other international crime groups have widespread influence around the U.S., it must be the direct fault of U.S. politicians.

Part of the letter signed by Agents Gene Wood, William Glenn, and Claude Guyant states, "Transnational criminal enterprises have annually invested millions of dollars to create and staff international drug and human smuggling networks inside the United States." No surprise there. Transnational criminal groups look at the U.S. as an ideal place to market illegal wares, especially drugs. These former agents no doubt saw many of these illicit transactions take place throughout their careers.

Then the agents go on to make this baseless assumption: "Organized crime on this scale we are speaking about cannot exist without political protection."

Agents Wood, Glenn, and Guyant believe the influence these groups enjoy is a result of lawmakers failing to pass reforms that deny these groups areas of operation, and worse, that they are directly at fault for these groups operating so extensively on U.S. soil.

There is no proof that transnational criminals operate in the U.S. under a system that provides top-down protection. Despite political gridlock and a slow economic recovery America remains an attractive option to investors, foreign businesses, bright international students, and many others. The problem is that America unfortunately is also an appealing place for criminal groups to meet the demand for illicit goods and services. But then are suppliers the problem here, or is it demand?

A 2010 survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that just over 8% of Americans 12 and older are involved to some degree with illegal drugs or the non medical abuse of prescription drugs. Criminal groups operating from South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Europe produce and distribute a variety of harmful drugs that are smuggled across U.S. borders by sea, air, underground, and overland routes. Easy access to drugs institutionalizes crime and poverty in America, strains an already overstretched health care system, and slashes worker productivity.


Drugs that pass through Mexico make up a large percentage of a multi-billion dollar industry meeting the demands of American drug abusers. The DEA estimates that the drugs brought across the Mexico-Arizona border alone generate $10 billion for drug cartels each year. The role these cartels play doesn't stop once their product crosses the border — as Wood, Glenn, and Guyant tell us, employees of these groups in the U.S. direct the product to market, funnel the money to their employers, keep demand high, and ensure that conditions remain favorable for distribution. The agents also reveal that members of these criminal networks operate in over 2,000 American cities.


Lawmakers have every incentive to eradicate crime and substance abuse in their communities — it makes them look more effective, and many politicians still run successful "law and order" campaigns. This recent letter nonetheless does beg the question: is there more that elected officials can do to deny criminal groups the unrestricted access to U.S. population centers they have enjoyed for so long?

Representatives are to blame for some of the negative consequences facing our nation. Partisan gridlock is a detriment to all Americans, but calling lawmakers responsible for upholding a system that allows international criminals to thrive moves this conversation in a negative direction.

All groups with a stake in America's future will benefit from the passage of comprehensive immigration reform. Compromise will demand a renewed focus on securing America's borders, and passing these reforms will channel fresh resources to groups like the ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Border Patrol. The final immigration reform bill should include a serious long-term vision for denying international criminal groups the incentive and ability to operate here in the U.S. We just don't need to wantonly blame politicians along the way.

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Alexander de Avila

Alexander is a Political columnist at PolicyMic. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College's school of Government, focusing his studies on international politics and the impact of emerging technologies on government and war. He has experience working at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and as a research assistant at TSKB in Istanbul exploring alternative energy sources.

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