It can be hard to figure out exactly what to make of the evil, ugly specter known as Mexican drug cartels. A pair of investigative reports, conducted by the Associated Press and the Center for Investigative Reporting, have given us some conclusions to chew on -- and together, they paint an odd picture.
Citing law enforcement and court cases, the AP reported this week an unprecedented increase in activity north of the border by high-level cartel members -- a Sinaloa cartel boss, for example
, is now the city of Chicago's public enemy no. 1. But meanwhile, the drug mules getting caught taking dope across the border? Four out of five are Americans, the CIR reported
, roped into the drug game by debt, extortion or plain thirst for profits.
In other words, it's NAFTA in reverse -- we're taking their jobs, but meanwhile, they're taking up the corner office.
Millennials may not remember it well, but there was no shortage of screaming in the United State and Canada over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which ended protective tariffs and opened up the border to trade. This would kill American jobs, the argument went, because companies could take advantage of cheap labor and manufacture south of the border and then not pay an import penalty in the form of a tariff when bringing the product back north.
NAFTA nowadays is a non-issue; Canada and Mexico are the top two purchasers of American exports, while Canada and Mexico are the no. 2 and no. 3 suppliers of goods imported into the United States. It would seem shipping and retail jobs have supplanted any worry over lost manufacturing jobs.
But let us return to drugs. The United States is the top market for the drug trade dominated by the Mexican drug cartels. That seems indisputable. And the AP, citing law enforcement and court records, reports that high-level operatives are working in U.S. cities in levels never before seen. "These days, we operate as if Chicago is on the border," an official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy said.
It's unclear exactly what that means or what law enforcement plans to do about it -- aside from putting an increasing number of Americans behind bars for doing the cartels' bidding.
More Americans than ever before are being caught by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers at the border, sometimes with incredible volume of drugs -- like the 36-year-old U.S. Naval Academy graduate busted with 1,100 pounds of marijuana.
"When the person's immigration status is noted, a U.S. citizen is involved in drug trafficking - including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine -- 60 percent of the time," the CIR reported. "For marijuana busts of 1,000 pounds or more, the percentage climbs to more than two-thirds."
And while it may seem odd to a Californian used to Oaksterdam's finest or the latest complaints about California medical marijuana shipped out of state, the cartels have "doubled down" on marijuana smuggling, the CIR reported. Eighty percent of ALL marijuana seized in the U.S. was taken in the border regions by Border Patrol, the CIR reported.