As the debate over illegal immigration continues to rage on Capitol Hill, President Obama will be meeting with newly minted Mexican President Pena Nieto today. Apparently, things with Mexico could be changing on a number of levels, but the most alarming surrounds how the two countries combat Mexican drug cartels.
"I think that in my first conversation with [Peña Nieto], he indicated to me that he very much continues to be concerned about how we can work together to deal with transnational drug cartels," Obama said at a press conference Tuesday at the White House. "We’ve made great strides in the coordination and cooperation between our two governments over the last several years. But my suspicion is is that things can be improved."
Peña Nieto’s government has suggested it may move away from aggressive prosecution of its battle against drug cartels, which have wracked the country with violence. His reformist agenda leaves open the question as to how – and whether – the U.S. and Mexico will continue to pool resources in fighting drug lords.
Mexican cartel actiity not only effects Mexico, it has had a substantial negative impact on the criminal justice system here in the United States. The Associated Press recently issued an extensive report detailing cartel infiltration into more than a dozen U.S. states, many far away from the border.
Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States — an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world's most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.
If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels' move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering.
But a wide-ranging Associated Press review of federal court cases and government drug-enforcement data, plus interviews with many top law enforcement officials, indicate the groups have begun deploying agents from their inner circles to the U.S. Cartel operatives are suspected of running drug-distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast.
"It's probably the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime," said Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office.
If Nieto plans to give violent cartels a pass, that's unacceptable and an indication of failed leadership and corruption. Either way, that wouldn't surprising because after all, recent reports show many Mexican government officials are part of the problem.
With evidence building that drug cartels have penetrated deep into Mexican government, law enforcement and society, authorities fear the narcotics trade might be on its way to turning the country into a Colombian-style "narco-democracy."
Other items on the agenda for Obama's meeting today include immigration and the economy.
President Barack Obama is headed to Mexico with a domestic ambition at the top of his travel agenda. To sell his immigration overhaul back home, he needs a growing economy in Mexico and a Mexican president willing to help him secure the border.
Obama was to fly to Mexico City on Thursday to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto, eager to promote Mexico's economic success and the neighboring country's place as the second largest export market for U.S. goods and services. Mexicans will be hanging on the president's words, but Obama also has in mind an important audience back in the United States.