Sen. Lee: 'It's Time to Designate Mexican Drug Cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations'

( — Citing data that nearly 110,000 Americans died from fentanyl-poisoning deaths in 2022 alone, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said it is time to designate the Mexican drug cartels “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTOs). 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. The chemicals needed to make fentanyl are transported from Communist China and India to Mexican drug cartels, who make the drug and then smuggle it into the U.S. The Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, both in Mexico, provide the “vast majority of fentnayl” that enters the U.S., according to the DEA.

Fentanyl is sold as a pill but it is also mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and Xanex, to increase the potency. Many people do not know they are buying a fentanyl-laced drug and end up overdosing and dying. 

“It’s time to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, given that they were responsible for the fentanyl-poisoning deaths of 110,000 Americans in 2022 alone,” said Sen. Lee in a Mar. 2 tweet.

“If a foreign sovereign did this to us — poisoning and killing 110,000 American civilians — it would be an act of war,” added Lee.  “In fact, it would likely be a war crime. The fact that Mexican drug cartels aren’t foreign sovereigns shouldn’t let them off the hook.”


He also tweeted, “The Secretary of State has the power to designate them as FTOs under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Lee is not alone.  At least 21 states have called on President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate the Mexican drug cartels as FTOs.

In a Feb. 8, 2023 letter, 21 state attorneys general sent a letter to Biden and Blinken calling on them to classify the cartels as FTOs. They cite the illegal actions of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels and note that their smuggling operations have spread far beyond the U.S.-Mexico border to places such as Virginia, “where fatal overdoses have increased by forty percent since 2021.”

“The Mexican drug cartels threaten our national security beyond the sale of these deadly drugs,” reads the letter.  “Over the past decade, Mexican drug cartels have developed well-organized armed forces to protect their reprehensible trade from rivals and from the Mexican government. The existence of such forces just across our southwestern land border, and the Mexican government’s inability to control them, pose a threat to our national security far greater than a typical drug-trafficking enterprise.”

The letter also notes that DEA Administrator Anne Milgram has declared that “fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever faced,” and that the Washington Post has reported, “an estimated 196 Americans are now dying each day from the drug — the equivalent of a fully loaded Boeing 757-200 crashing and killing everyone on board.”

“The same cartels who produce and traffic this dangerous chemical are also assassinating rivals and government officials, ambushing, and killing Americans at the border, and engaging in an armed insurgency against the Mexican government,” states the letter.  “This dangerous terrorist activity occurring at our border will not abate unless we escalate our response.”

According to the CDC, between Jan. 31, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021, overdose deaths involving opioids rose 38.1%.  During that same period, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl), “rose 55.6 percent and appear to be the primary driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths.”

Among all overdose deaths in 2020, synthetic opioids were the main driver in 82.3% of the cases reported, said the CDC. 

The U.S. Secretary of State is responsible for designating a foreign entity as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

Under that law, “terrorist activity” is defined, among other things, as hijacking, sabotage, detaining, threatening to kill, assassination, the use of any biological agent or chemical agent, to conspire in such activity, or to solicit funds for the activity. The law also covers “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

Some of the groups designated as FTOs over the last 10 years include ISIS, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the al-Nusrah Front, Boko Haram, and the Army of Islam. 

On March 2, Sen. Lee also tweeted, “A record 110,000 Americans died of fentanyl poisoning last year, as fentanyl manufactured in Mexico is flooding into our country. This is nearly as many lives — lost in 2022 alone — as the 116,000 Americans killed in World War I.”

He further said, “While 110,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl from Mexico in 2022 alone, fewer than 8,000 civilians have died in the war in Ukraine since February 24, 2022.”


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