George Will

The turmoil is, however, taking a toll on Arizona, which has a 370-mile border with Mexico. Terry Goddard, Arizona's attorney general, says this is a "transit state" not a "destination state." Phoenix is a distribution center for smuggled drugs destined for more than 230 American cities, and for people. Each commodity is stashed in different "drop houses." The people are kept in what Goddard calls "cattle-car conditions." He says that although a million people a year are moving north through Arizona, it is still a seller's market for traffickers in human beings.

Extrapolating from wire transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars from customers in dozens of U.S. states to smugglers operating in Arizona, Goddard believes that the "coyotes" who bring in the human contraband are extremely violent extensions of the cartels. One gang will swoop down on a "drop house" holding smuggled persons, or on a truck carrying such persons on the interstate from Tucson, and then "negotiate" their own deals with people who thought they had already paid for the smuggling. Some who object are shot in the head, which is, Goddard says, "a pretty good technique" for encouraging payments from the others. He estimates that half of Phoenix's 169 murders last year were related to human and drug smuggling.

Mexico, he says, is no longer importing up to four times more pseudoephedrine than its pharmaceutical industry requires. This ingredient was used to make methamphetamines destined for the U.S. market. Today, measured by volume (millions of pounds) and profit (up to 70 percent of the cartels' earnings), the biggest business is still marijuana. It is shipped in two-ton lots, in trucks that cross over the border fence without touching it, using "bridges" that can be assembled in 90 seconds at places identified by spotters who are equipped to live in the desert for weeks at a time. They can report where U.S. border patrols are at any moment.

All this has rekindled the debate -- a hardy perennial -- about crimping the cartels' marijuana market by legalizing their product in the United States. Whatever the merits of legalization -- and there are certain to be costs -- it will not happen in the foreseeable future, which is where Arizonans must live.

There are more than 6,600 licensed American gun dealers on the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. They should obey the law, even though most of the victims of the cartels' violence deserve to be.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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