FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesPresident Trump Reverses Course on Designating Mexican Cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organization

After announcing his plan to designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, President Trump says he will withhold the designation for now at the request of Mexico’s president.
December 9, 2019
On Friday, after declaring his intentions to designate Mexican cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) before Thanksgiving, President Trump announced that he will be withholding this designation for now at the request of Mexican President Andrés Manual López Obrador.

Despite saying all statutory work to declare cartels as FTOs had been completed, President Trump issued a statement saying, “… at the request of a man who I like and respect, and has worked so well with us, President Andres Manuel @LopezObrador_ we will temporarily hold off this designation and step up our joint efforts to deal decisively with these vicious and ever-growing organizations!” 

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly on November 26, President Trump formally announced his intentions to declare Mexican cartels as FTOs, citing American casualties at the hands of cartels as a reason for the designation. 

The initial announcement came just weeks after nine Americans were killed when their vehicles were ambushed by cartel members less than 100 miles from the U.S. border, and just days after more than 20 people were killed in a cartel gun battle approximately 40 miles from Eagle Pass. 

Despite offering to provide aid and additional border security measures to Mexico at previous times, the president has faced resistance from Mexican government officials, many of whom see U.S. intervention in Mexico as a breach of national sovereignty.

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On Thursday, the day before President Trump announced he would be halting the designation of cartels as FTOs, Mexican President Andrés Manual López Obrador met with Attorney General William Barr to discuss cooperative foreign policy measures between the U.S. and Mexico moving forward.

“Good meeting with the United States Attorney General, William Barr. As a lawyer, you understand that our Constitution obliges us to adhere to the principles of development cooperation and non-intervention in foreign policy. This way we can work together,” President López Obrador said.  

Following President Trump’s announcement that he would be holding off on the designation, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard extended a message of gratitude and respect to the president saying, “On behalf of the Government of Mexico, I appreciate President Donald Trump’s decision to postpone the designation of organizations as terrorists at the request of President López Obrador, who also respects and appreciates him.”

The FTO designation, if granted by the Secretary of State under the terms of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), authorizes the Department of Treasury to freeze cartel assets, restrict funding from external sources, and prevents cartel members and their affiliates from traveling to the United States.

Additionally, the designation makes it illegal for individuals to provide resources to cartel members, stigmatizes the organizations to other countries, and aims to curb the financing of international terrorism by encouraging other countries to consider assuming the designation for the foreign organizations in question.

Earlier this spring, Texas Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21) introduced legislation supported by members of the Texas delegation and other Congressional members aimed at designating Mexican cartels as FTOs after President Trump originally said he was considering the designation in February. 

Details about how long President Trump plans to withhold the designation, as well as specifics about President López Obrador’s request, have not been released at this time. 


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Sarah McConnell, Reporter for The Texan

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.