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Transnational Crime Eludes Solutions Despite Congress’ Renewed Efforts

July 29, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement personnel tried to convince sometimes skeptical members of Congress Wednesday they are making adequate efforts to control transnational crime along the U.S. southern border.

However, they also acknowledged a “crisis” as illegal immigrants and drug gangs overwhelm resources intended to keep them out of the United States.

“They pose a clear threat to national security,” said Francis Russo, an assistant commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He was speaking to the House Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight, management and accountability as it tries to determine new strategies that might be needed to combat transnational crime.

A top bill pending in Congress is the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act of 2021, which seeks to put a crimp in transnational crime by reducing the flow of illegal immigrants.

The bill proposes increasing the number of border processing facilities. It would authorize hiring additional Homeland Security Department personnel to process illegal immigrants and expedite the asylum adjudication process. It would allocate additional funds to improve care for unaccompanied children. 

In addition, the Homeland Security Department is working with Latin American governments to jointly track down and prosecute gang members.

Transnational crime most commonly refers to counterfeiting, smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking, all of which have been traced to gangs that cross between Mexico and the United States.

Border Patrol agents have been apprehending around 100,000 illegal immigrants monthly this year, which Russo described as an example of success in stopping the threat they represent.

“I think we’re in a much better place now than we ever were,” he told the congressional panel.

However, some of the illegal immigrants suffer severe consequences linked to the dangers of the border crossings or gang activity.

“Unfortunately, we have also confirmed 300 deaths this year,” Russo said.

The lawmakers were mostly concerned about long-term consequences to the United States from illegal activity from drug cartels operating across the border.

“These cartels are the biggest criminal threat to our nation. Period,” said Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn.

Increasingly, they come from the Northern Triangle of Central America, which generally refers to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They are some of Latin America’s poorest nations and suffer the world’s highest murder rates.

Their challenges with poverty, violence and corruption — which has worsened in recent years — compelled many of them to become refugees trying to flee into the United States. Sometimes they bring gang violence with them, according to witnesses at the congressional hearing.

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee on oversight, management and accountability, described the gangs as “far-reaching criminal enterprises” that are difficult to prosecute because they operate internationally.

“They have to know there will be a price to pay if they violate our laws,” Correa said. 

He added, “It’s not going to be one easy solution.”

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., said the Latin American countries’ problems are becoming a heavy burden on the United States, such as the roughly 15,000 unaccompanied minors who entered the United States illegally this year. They are under the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He put some of the blame on the Biden administration.

“It’s clear that many actions taken by this administration have fueled the crisis,” Meijer said.

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