At Large

Facing the Cruel Facts

Drug trafficking is illegal immigration's Siamese twin, PC sensibilities notwithstanding.

By 8.20.10

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There is a tendency for the media and academic analysts to attempt to separate consideration of the illegal immigration of Latin Americans (mostly Mexicans) into the United States from criminal cross-border drug and gun trafficking. Unfortunately this politically correct characterization obscures reality.

Human smuggling is a nice little side business for all ranks of drug traders. A good portion of the cash made by the "coyotes" is kicked upstairs to the sub-bosses of whatever organizational section commands a given region. But as any experienced old school mafioso will admit, that sort of business is strictly for the lower echelon of "street humps." The real money, the serious action, is in what they call in Marseilles -- la merde. It sounds better than the English or Spanish version of the same products.

What trafficking in humans does provide, however, is an excellent diversionary activity that offers not only local political protection on the U.S. side by committed and oft-times innocent immigrant activists, but, importantly, a ready supply of modestly compensated "mules" among the illegals themselves. And here is where the situation becomes very sensitive.

The Hispanic community is outraged at what ultimately is the "profiling" of their membership as a hand maiden of international criminal enterprise. But, unfortunately, that plays into the drug cartels' hands. The continuing struggle to focus attention on the moral issue of illegal immigration provides a ready cover for the multi-billion dollar organization of narcotics smuggling. To not recognize this is an exercise in self-delusion.

The people who run the drug and arms smuggling cartels in Mexico and elsewhere in Central and South America can read newspapers as well as anyone. They see a message being sent that Hispanic immigrants will continue to "get a pass" whenever possible. From the cartels' standpoint, the issue of so-called racial profiling must be set front and center whenever possible in order to take attention away from narcotics trafficking.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently made a highly publicized sweep of "illegal immigrants with criminal records" in Arizona. The head of ICE, who just happened to be on a visit to that state, said that it was the largest ever conducted there. Sixty-three people were arrested. It was a 72-hour statewide operation aided by the U.S. Marshals Service. The question is what had held up these arrests before? Amazingly convenient timing coordinated with the visit of the ICE director, wasn't it?

Equally interesting is that a major point was made of the international nature of the arrested criminals. The arrestees included citizens from nine countries: Canada, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Uzbekistan and, oh yes, Mexico. It doesn't take an intelligence expert to wonder how this star cast of international actors could have been so miraculously available for arrest at that moment.

How very convenient for the Obama Administration that wants to downplay the "illegality" of illegal immigrants of primarily Mexican nationality. Clearly this type of high profile "roust" did not go unnoticed by the union that represents 7,000 rank and file ICE agency employees who unanimously passed a "vote-of-no-confidence" in ICE leadership for abandoning the agency's basic mission of enforcing all immigration laws.

In a complex way the cracking down by local police on "drop houses' and the arrest of low level "coyotes" adds to the statistics of federal authorities that the Obama Administration loves to quote. "We've deported more people in the last 18 months than the previous administration had done in four years," is one of the typical White House statements. Of course, these increased deportees imply increased arrivals as well. But as Secretary Janet Napolitano is reported to have said, "We have no way of measuring that."

What has been counted (by CBS News, hardly a conservative source) is that 14.8% of Arizona's prison population is illegal immigrants. And this is after the ICE deportations. Twenty-four percent in prison on drug charges are illegals, as are 40% of those in prison for kidnapping. The DHS secretary might have noticed those percentages when she reviewed their relationship to the fact that 7% of the Arizona population is illegal. Some more measuring is in order.

The reality is that peaceful, productive illegals -- and even some properly documented immigrants -- are petrified to expose the Hispanic transnational prison gangs that make up the drug smuggling cadre who live among them. Illegals are totally vulnerable to criminal coercion of all types. For self-protection some illegals drift toward enlistment in the drug gangs. As one sheriff's deputy wanting to remain anonymous said, "Shut down the flow of illegals and cull those already in place and you dry up the recruitment pool among the drug traffickers already in the U.S."

It may not be politically correct, but there is no bright line separating the illegal population in the Southwest from the criminal element that exploits them. The criminals make sure of that. Anyone familiar with mob history in the U.S. knows how local fears and threats work. The main difference is that the mob chieftains of today live protected from the police in Mexico and use the structure of innocent illegals in the U.S. to provide an unwitting cover and recruitment base for their criminal distribution networks. And there is little American law enforcement can do about it.

Would amnesty in any form ever change this equation? Until that question is answered affirmatively, legalizing illegals will have little justification. 

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.