Kristian Ramos: US Must Stem Flow of Guns to Halt Mexico Drug War Violence

The perception that violence along the southwest border is linked to immigration is a false straw man argument used to prevent a real reform of our broken immigration system. A recent report shows that 16 murders occurred in El Paso in 2011, while over 2,000 murders were reported across the border in Ciudad Juárez.

The reality is violence along the border has been contained to the Mexican side, but is overwhelmingly done with American guns. Over the last 10 years, Congress has spent 90 billion dollars on border security measures.

There are clear signs of success, but now more must be done.

If Congress is serious about bringing the violence on the Mexican side of the border down, it would be smart to also find ways to stop the flow of American guns into Mexico and reform the legal pathways for migrants to enter and leave the country.

Mexico has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Unfortunately, they share a border with a country that has one of the most lenient, and that has created a dynamic of violence south of the border. As terrible as this dynamic is, the real cost of American guns crossing into Mexico is three-fold: brutal cartel violence on the Mexican side of the border, Congressional refusal to take common sense legislative action, and the crippling of any real debate over reforming our broken immigration system.

It is undeniable that American assault rifles are fueling increasingly bloody Mexican cartel battles. According to a report by the Washington Post, over the last four years federal authorities have identified more then 60,000 U.S. guns contributing to 30,000 deaths south of the border.

Violence in Mexico is a problem for both countries. The current strategy of increasing military and Border Patrol presence on the American side of the border has been successful in minimizing spillover bloodshed.

The Straw Purchaser Penalty Enhancement Act, which would create a new two-year jail sentence for certain “straw purchasers” of firearms is a step in the right direction. Straw purchasers are Americans who purchase multiple assault rifles at a time for Mexican cartel members.  They are responsible for many of the illegal firearm transfers to the Mexican drug cartels.

Congressman Adam Schiff, who introduced the legislation, thinks that the federal government can do much more to stop this dangerous dynamic. “Current federal law does not give prosecutors sufficient leverage against straw purchasers who are providing guns to drug cartels and gangs. Drug and gun violence has reached a dangerous level along the border and in Mexico. We know that the guns that drug cartels use to kill civilians and law enforcement officers are largely purchased in the United States.”

With the Republican Primary race over, immigration and the border are sure to come up in a general election match up between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. President Obama has overseen the single largest buildup of Border Patrol and military personnel along the southwest border in the history of the country.

Despite this, Romney’s embrace of immigration hard liners from the Southwest such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Russell Pearce almost ensures that border issues will be tied to immigration in a detrimental way.  

Safety on the American side of our shared border has never been better, trade between the United States and Mexico is increasing, and the number of undocumented immigrants entering the United States is at the lowest point it has been since the Nixon administration. Politicians who continually tie immigration and violence on the Mexican side of the border are hurting our nation’s ability to rationally deal with piecemeal immigration reform.

Sadly, so much of the current debate revolves around a view of the southwest border region which denies a very simple truth; lax American gun laws contribute far more to the violence in Mexico or any type of residual unrest in the United States than undocumented immigrants attempting to enter our country.

Politicians can’t have it both ways on this. If there is real concern about violence in their borders, then they have to stop the flow of guns into Mexico.

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