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Subcommittee Chair Pfluger: We Cannot Allow Criminal Cartels to Operate With Impunity

June 7, 2023

Subcommittee Chair Pfluger: We Cannot Allow Criminal Cartels to Operate With Impunity

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing to examine the threats posed to the U.S. homeland by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

The full hearing is livestreamed here.

As prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence. Today we are holding an important hearing on the menacing threat posed by transnational criminal organizations to our homeland security and public safety. I would like to thank all of our witnesses for testifying today.

Transnational criminal organizations or TCOs are groups or networks of individuals who engage in illegal activities across national borders. They engage in a multi-faceted criminal enterprise from drug trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling, and other criminal acts. Organized crime is a massive business. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar business.

TCOs are responsible for trafficking deadly drugs like illicit fentanyl and other opioids into American communities, fueling violence and corruption, and undermining the rule of law. These enterprises exploit our porous Southern border to advance their criminal agendas, as they facilitate and profit off of the smuggling and trafficking of people, often victimizing susceptible migrants who are traveling along the treacherous journey from Central and South America to the United States.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Mexican TCOs, in particular, control smuggling corridors, mainly across the southwest border and maintain “the greatest drug trafficking influence” in the United States. The trafficking of drugs like illicit fentanyl into American neighborhoods and communities from Texas to New York by TCOs have contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

In fact, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 to 45, and these deaths are occurring in every state in our nation. The scourge of fentanyl has hit every single one of our communities. In February, two of my constituents lost their son, Jackson Lee Warnick, age 17, to a fentanyl overdose. Jackson’s parents had to live through a nightmare that no parent should ever have to endure. Jackson’s family has been working tirelessly across the Permian Basin to share their son’s story to help educate folks on the dangers posed by synthetic opioids.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 107,735 Americans died between August 2021 and August 2022 from drug overdoses, with the vast majority of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Just this past April, the head of the DEA, Anne Milgram, called the Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel the “greatest criminal drug threat the United States has ever faced” and that “these ruthless, violent, criminal organizations have associates, facilitators, and brokers in all 50 states in the United States, as well as in more than 40 countries around the world.”

These cartels purchase precursor chemicals from China, which are shipped to South America and Mexico, and using those precursors to produce fentanyl and even process that fentanyl into counterfeit prescription pills. The cartels then traffic these drugs from Mexico into the United States for distribution.

To put this into perspective, and as noted recently by the DEA Administrator, “[i]t costs the cartels as little as 10 cents to produce a fentanyl-laced fake prescription pill that is then sold in the United States for as much as $10 to $30. As a result, the cartels make billions of dollars from trafficking fentanyl into the United States.”

Cartels are also beginning to mix fentanyl with xylazine—a powerful sedative that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has permitted for veterinary use—causing fatal overdoses across the country. It is also important to examine the collaboration between Asian and Mexican TCOs. In particular, Asian TCOs play a major role in the laundering of illicit drug proceeds on behalf of Mexican TCOs. The money laundering tactics used by Asian TCOs involve the transfer of funds between China and Hong Kong, using front companies to facilitate international money movement.

Meanwhile, China has ceased all counter-drugs cooperation with the United States, which raises serious concerns about the global effort to curb precursor chemicals from going to Mexico for the manufacturing of illicit fentanyl. Additionally, these criminal activities by TCOs extend well beyond drug smuggling and money laundering activities, TCOs are also involved in human trafficking, human smuggling, and other crimes. In Fiscal Year 2022, Homeland Security Investigations initiated over 1,300 criminal investigations related to sex trafficking and forced labor, resulting in more than 3,650 arrests and over 630 convictions.

We cannot allow these criminal networks to operate with impunity and endanger our homeland security and public safety. We must explore all the tools at our disposal to detect, disrupt, and dismantle their operations, and hold them accountable for their actions.

As we face a growing crisis at the border, and as TCOs evolve in both size and sophistication, it is more important than ever that we unequivocally support our dedicated Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations agents, as well as our state and local law enforcement as they work on the frontlines to disrupt and dismantle the egregious operations of TCOs. This afternoon, we have a distinguished panel of expert witnesses to discuss TCOs and the grave threat they pose to the homeland.

Thank you to all our witnesses for being with us this afternoon, and I look forward to our discussion on this critical topic.