This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
A war is raging south of the U.S.-Mexican border, one that increasingly poses a direct threat to Americans.
The vicious battle for power among Mexican drug cartels claimed another 1,000 lives in March. That’s a record even for Mexico, a country that’s home to the most dangerous city in the world outside a declared war zone: Ciudad Juarez.
That metropolis across the border from El Paso, Texas, averages seven executions a day. Three Americans associated with the U.S. consulate were among the casualties one day last month. People who can afford to leave do; as many as 30,000 houses have been abandoned. Those left behind hunker down, avoiding eye contact with strangers, cell phone calls from unknown numbers and large gatherings.
The growing body count across Mexico puts this year on pace to surpass 2009, when 9,635 people died in violence tied to organized crime. In all, more than 22,700 gang members, police officers, soldiers and bystanders have been killed in drug-related violence since the Mexican government’s crackdown on cartels began more than three years ago.
Mere proximity to so much lawlessness automatically puts Americans at risk. But the root cause of this violence – the relentless race to supply Americans’ insatiable demand for illicit drugs – practically guarantees that carnage won’t stop at the border.
The Mexican drug trade dumps tons of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine onto U.S. streets every year, where it claims lives and whole communities. Border communities are especially terrorized. Last month, an Arizona cattle rancher was gunned down on his property near the border. Authorities suspect the rancher had run across a drug smuggler. Tracks from the murder scene led back across the border.
Mexico’s inability to quell the violence is closely linked to the United States’ failure to adequately police its southern border. The drug cartels rely on a porous border – illegal drugs pour north, and the money and guns that power the gangland wars flow back.
Until the U.S. government gets serious about controlling the flow of illegal immigration into this country and about securing its border, the cartels will continue to have an upper hand. But even the best border security won’t restore order. The Mexican drug trade is fueled not just by U.S. demand, but also by the absence of economic opportunity in Mexico.
In Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican government has launched a new strategy aimed at the social factors like joblessness that drive violence and gang life. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently pledged U.S. support.
Assistance is vital. This is the United States’ fight as much as Mexico’s, and America needs to treat it as such.