Mexican cartels are officially terrorist organizations in Texas, according to a designation applied by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a Sept. 21 executive order.
“Fentanyl is a clandestine killer. And Texans are victimized by Mexican cartels that produce and import it. So cartels are terrorists. And it’s time that we started treating them that way,” Abbott said during a press conference in Midland, Texas.
He specifically named the Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation cartels as terrorist organizations, but added ” any similarly situated Mexican drug cartels who may be identified in subsequent proclamations.”
The two he named are the primary sources of fentanyl drug trafficking in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is often pressed into counterfeit pills and sold as Adderall, Percocet, or other common prescription pills.
“Unfortunately, most who die from fentanyl didn’t even know that they were taking it. They were poisoned unwittingly, by a counterfeit pill that appeared to be some type of real medication,” Abbott said.
He said the new terrorist designation will target the cartels “for enhanced apprehension, prosecution, and disruption, while heightening awareness of their deadly activities for our citizens and the international community.”
He has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to go after Texas-based gangs that work with the cartels in their drug and human smuggling operations.
DPS is also to increase its interdictions on contraband going south across the border into Mexico—most often money and firearms, Abbott said.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) applauded Abbott’s move, saying Congress should follow suit.
“Americans and migrants are suffering and dying at the hands of violent drug cartels in Mexico. Cartels are terrorist organizations and the U.S government should treat them as such; there are no more valid excuses for allowing them to commit further atrocities,” he said.
In the past two congressional legislative sessions, Roy has introduced a bill that seeks to designate two cartels as terrorist organizations.
The bill directs the State Department to designate the Reynosa/Los Metros faction of the Gulf cartel and the Cartel Del Noreste faction of Los Zetas as foreign terrorist organizations. It also requires the State Department to produce a report on those cartels, as well as any others that meet the criteria.
The bill has the support of 46 co-sponsors, all Republicans.
The State Department currently lists 68 entities as foreign terrorist organizations, with the oldest designation given in 1997 to Sri Lanka’s Shining Path and one of the newest being for Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army on Dec. 1, 2021.
The State Department says terrorist 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.”
In response to a request for comment on Abbott’s action or if it’s considering similar actions against Mexican cartels, a State Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email, “We don’t discuss deliberations or potential deliberations regarding our designations process.”
Along with his executive order, Abbott sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris requesting they classify Mexican drug cartels operating in Texas as terrorist organizations.
“The cartels’ destruction reaches far beyond our state line,” Abbott wrote. “Cartel assets could then be frozen, weakening the financial support of trafficking activities. In addition, federal investigators and prosecutors could aggressively pursue the enhanced criminal sentences that apply to drug traffickers who fund foreign terrorist organizations.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abbott said that during the next state legislative session, he plans to work on reclassifying fentanyl overdoses as fentanyl poisonings and elevating the penalty for fentanyl dealing to murder if someone dies.
He said more teenagers are selling candy-colored pills at school that are killing children.
“The truth of the matter is, the cartels could care less whether or not the people, or the drugs they’re trafficking, kill people,” he said. “This is extraordinarily dangerous, and could be a weapon of mass destruction imposed by Mexican drug cartels.”
Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd, who monitors 16 cartel sites in his Texas county, said Abbott’s designation “highlights the dire situation that we’re in and the seriousness of the organizations that we’re up against.”
He said although he doesn’t think it will directly impact his criminal investigations or the prosecutorial side of the criminal justice system at the local level, it will have an impact at sentencing.
“The fact that he’s declaring them terrorists will be a beneficial when it comes time for sentencing … because that designation is something that holds a lot of weight with your average citizen [juror]—it brings them to the understanding of the totality of what’s going on with these organizations as they operate within the state of Texas,” Boyd told The Epoch Times.
Brent Smith, the attorney for Kinney County, which shares 16 miles of border with Mexico, said he fully supports Abbott’s terrorist designation.
“The cartels have no regard for human life and have brought death and destruction into Texas and are responsible for the poisoning of thousands of Americans,” Smith told The Epoch Times.
Kinney County was the first Texas county to declare a disaster over the border crisis in April 2021, and again the first to declare an invasion in July.
“The impact of this designation is difficult to determine until we see what kind of teeth are actually in it. However, I think it’s a necessary step to justify declaring an invasion on the southern border,” Smith said.
Kinney County is one of more than 30 Texas counties that have formally declared support for, and urge Abbott to, declare the border crisis an “invasion” and invoke his constitutional authority to use the National Guard to “repel” it.
During a press conference on Sept. 22, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested Abbott’s move to designate the cartels was a political one for reelection purposes. Abbott is running for a third term as governor against Democrat nominee Beto O’Rourke.
“It remains to be seen if he is entitled to make such a declaration or if it’s related to the federal government. But, there will be elections in November and they always use immigration with electoral purposes. And that’s why they make these policies,” Obrador said.
“If the man wants to be reelected, he should consider that there are many Mexicans, many Hispanics, in Texas and in all the U.S. And it’s not accepted when migrants are mistreated, in any state of the American union.”
Obrador has been criticized for allowing the cartels to transform Mexico into a narco-state with his “hugs not bullets” approach.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation said in a Sept. 22 press release that the cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. governments to combat cartel activity has “neared rock-bottom under [Obrador], who has paid public respects to cartel-kingpin family in his official capacity.”
This article was updated to add comments from Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd and the State Department.