President Donald Trump carried on with his intent to appropriate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations disregarding the pushback from several cabinet members, as well as top aides, Reuters reported, citing five people knowledgeable about the matter.
According to The Hill, officials had concerns that Trump’s plan could damage diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Mexico and imperil Mexican cooperation with U.S. efforts to prevent illegal border crossings and drug trafficking.
Some advisers also warned such a move would complicate the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce refugee admissions, as those fleeing cartel violence would now be able to say they were escaping terrorism.
White House adviser Stephen Miller, known as one of the administration’s most hardline anti-immigration voices, was one of the aides who expressed concerns about the designation plan, according to Reuters, although he declined to comment on the record to the news service.
Trump told conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly on Nov. 26 that he planned to apply the designation but announced a temporary moratorium on the designation Dec. 9. It was unclear whether he had been briefed on the advisor recommendations before the November interview, according to Reuters.
A senior administration official told the news service the delay was a deliberate pressure tactic rather than a change of mind, telling Reuters “even the threat of designation was extremely useful leverage in terms of obtaining further cooperation.”
Mexican officials, meanwhile, have also argued that the U.S. could use a terrorism designation to intervene in the nation militarily. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reportedly told Attorney General William Barr in a Dec. 5 meeting that the Mexican constitution would not allow such interference.
Former and current U.S. officials have argued against the move, stating that a 1999 law that allows U.S. officials to designate foreign drug traffickers as drug kingpins already empowers the U.S. to impose sanctions similar to those triggered by a foreign terrorist organization designation. The designation, then, would be redundant. The 21-year-old law was another key factor that contributed to postponing the designation plan, according to Reuters.
Jason Blazakis, who oversaw the designation process at the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau from 2008-2018, told Reuters that the designation could also create a precedent of conflating organized crime with terrorism.
“There are hundreds of Brazilian gangs eligible for the list. There are numerous Chinese and Russian criminal gangs eligible for the list. Where would you stop?” he told Reuters.
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.