According to the U.S. State Department, "FTO [foreign terrorist organization] designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business."
Several Republican politicians have conveyed their thoughts on whether certain Mexican cartels should be designated as terrorist organizations. For example, in March, Senators John Kennedy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the Ending the Notorious, Aggressive and Remorseless Criminal Organizations and Syndicates (NARCOS) Act of 2023, which would designate Mexican drug cartels as FTOs:
Kennedy: "Designating these murderers as foreign terrorist organizations would give U.S. officials more tools to use in putting the cartels and the networks that support them behind bars."
Graham: "The designation of Mexican drug cartels as FTOs is a first step in the major policy changes we need to combat this evil [of sending fentanyl and illicit drugs into the United States]."
More recently, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis GOP expressed similar sentiment, sharing that "those Mexican drug cartels are going to be treated like the foreign terrorist organizations that they are."
American Family News spoke to Kyle Shideler, director and senior analyst for homeland security and counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy, who is somewhat reluctant to designate a cartel as an FTO.
"I understand they [the politicians] are trying to convey the seriousness of the cartel threat, as it represents a major national security threat," he said, admitting that "some have the capabilities that are on the level of a terrorist organization or insurgency."
According to Shideler, others have claimed that an FTO designation would mean "essentially everybody in Mexico could reasonably articulate a fear of the cartels, which would then allow them to be able to claim asylum under the argument that they have a legitimate fear of political violence."
But he is concerned that objection could derail efforts for a more aggressive approach to the cartels -- and suggests this may have deterred former President Donald Trump from considering the terrorist designation.
Alternatively, Shideler proposes creating a designation that would carry with it the implications of a terror designation and convey to Americans the level of the threat, but not invoke the potential problem of asylum seekers trying to enter the country.
"A designation called Radical Transnational Criminal Organizations (RATCO) could be created to facilitate a new avenue to the fight against drug and human-trafficking cartels," he explains. "The designation should carry with it the prohibition from immigration to the U.S., the sanctioning and blocking of assets, and the use of military and/or intelligence assets to go after and eliminate designated individuals and specific entities abroad."
He concludes by pointing out that the U.S. is losing more American citizens to fentanyl than to almost any other threat. "Our government has to get more serious about the cartels sending a poison into the country that killed at least 100,000 Americans," he emphasizes.
Headline revised after original posting.