FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers at a June 11 hearing that the agency has noted “quite a number” of instances of individuals deeply indebted to Mexican criminal organizations entering the United States, stating that there’s “no question” that cartel activity is “spilling over” the border.
Wray made the remarks at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, in response to a question by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who asked about the link between cartel activity and the flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border.
“Is it true that many of the foreign nationals who are being trafficked across our border often arrive here deeply indebted to the Mexican crime cartels?” McClintock asked.
The FBI director confirmed this to be the case.
“Certainly, we have seen quite a number of such instances, absolutely,” Wray replied.
McClintock asked if those debts were collected on this side of the border through “indentured servitude.”
“In some cases, definitely,” Wray responded. “We have a number of human trafficking task forces, as well as working on certain taskforces with [the Department of Homeland Security] to try to address that issue.”
In May, DHS officials warned that Mexico’s fastest-rising drug cartel, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG, was trying to gain a foothold in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest.
“There’s no question that the cartel activity on the other side of the border is spilling over in all sorts of ways, and you just put your finger directly on one that is extremely concerning to us all,” Wray said.
Wray’s comment referred to people indebted to cartels being forced into what amounts to modern-day slavery, as mentioned by McClintock.
“Basically, 170-plus years after the Thirteenth Amendment, [we] have slavery burgeoning in this country as a result of these policies,” McClintock said, presumably referring to the Biden administration’s policies on immigration.
It’s a “modern form of slavery,” Wray said. “It’s almost Medieval.”
Republicans have blamed the border surge on the Biden administration’s rolling back of some Trump-era policies and on messaging that they claim is being interpreted by would-be migrants and human traffickers as encouraging illegal crossings.
McClintock asked whether the cartels have gang affiliates who extract debts on this side of the border.
“It varies from case to case,” Wray said. “Different cartels have affiliations with different sorts of gangs here in the United States.”
He stated that the problem isn’t confined to labor-related indentured servitude, but also takes the form of sex trafficking.
“The incentives are there for smugglers to keep trying to get people over here,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a Texas Democrat who has been critical of the White House’s handling of the border crisis, said in a June 10 interview on MSNBC.
“We’ve got to enforce the law. Deport people that don’t have a right to be here.”
Cuellar made the remarks in response to a request for comment on a recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection report that the agency had apprehended 180,034 individuals illegally entering the United States in May, the highest monthly tally in 21 years.
The lawmaker also reiterated a point he made in earlier interviews that both “push” and “pull” factors need to be addressed to resolve the problem.
The pull factors refer to border and immigration policies, which if lax, tend to encourage illegal immigration. The push factors refer to conditions such as crime, corruption, and lack of economic opportunity, that drive people in Central America from their homes.
Cuellar has said in previous interviews that Democrats tend to focus on the push factors, often talking about addressing the “root causes” of migration, while Republicans typically concentrate on the pull factors, such as tightening border security and tougher messaging on illegal immigration.