Blaise Ingoglia calls for drug cartels to be designated as terrorist groups

Mexican drug cartels are guilty of engaging in myriad illicit acts, from kidnapping, human trafficking and drug smuggling to extortion, murder and routinely breaching the United States border. Sen. Blaise Ingoglia says that’s more than enough reason to designate them as terrorist organizations, a move that would unlock more foreign sanction options and ease indictments of their accomplices.

Ingoglia, a Spring Hills Republican and former Florida GOP Chair, filed a measure this week (SM 1020) calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to label cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

Doing so, the measure said, would enable “appropriate means (to) be initiated to mitigate and, eventually, eliminate (cartels’) operations.”

“It is time to get serious about stopping the plague that is human and drug trafficking,” Ingoglia said in a statement Wednesday. “In addition to fixing the perennially broken legal immigration system and stopping the influx of illegal immigrants, this is a great first step to protecting Americans.”

Ingoglia is hardly alone in calling for stricter enforcement against cartels. In March, U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Roger Marshall reintroduced the Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act to designate four cartels as FTOs following the kidnapping and murder of two American citizens in Tamaulipas, Mexico. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy filed a companion measure.

Later the same month, U.S. Sens. Lindsay Graham and John Kennedy introduced the Ending NARCOS Act, which listed nine Mexican cartels for FTO designations.

“By designating drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, the U.S. government would have authority to prosecute individuals for drug and human trafficking,” a news release announcing the bill said. “America could also use extraterritorial jurisdiction to target and prosecute foreign nationals involved with Mexican cartels or other transnational criminal organizations.”

Blinken said in March that his department was considering the designation after the Gulf Cartel murdered the two Americans. The group also kidnapped, but later released, another two U.S. citizens.

Ingoglia’s bill cites the murders as a reason for the FTO designation. It also notes that in fiscal 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized 27,000 pounds of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, and millions of fentanyl pills.

That, the bill says, is “enough to kill every American several times over (but) represents a mere 10-15% of the fentanyl actually sent across the border into the United States each year.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs made an identical assertion during a March 1 hearing of the Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance. He said he received those figures from CBP and Drug Enforcement Agency officials.

More than two-thirds of the reported 107,081 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2022 involved fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of 7,667 drug related deaths in Florida through the first half of 2022, the most recent date for which state data is available, 40% (3,050) involved fentanyl — the most frequently found drug in decedents.

The U.S. State Department currently lists 68 groups across the globe as FTOs, none of which operate solely as a drug cartel. But drug cartels could fit the criteria for such a designation.

To be labeled an FTO, a group must satisfy three requirements:

— It must be a foreign organization.

— It must engage in terrorist activity.

— Its activity or terrorism must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States.

Federal law provides the U.S. Secretary of State is authorized to make FTO designations in coordination with the Attorney General and Treasury Secretary. Seven days before making the designation, the Secretary of State must notify the Senate and House leadership by classified communication, after which members of “relevant committees” deliberate on the matter.

If the Legislature does not object to the designation, it is published in the Federal Register and becomes policy.

SM 1020, filed Tuesday, awaits committee references and a House companion.

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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