Opening Statement of Chairman Ron Johnson “Securing the Border: Understanding the Presence of Transnational Crime”

Good morning and welcome. 

Last week, the committee heard from Texans and Arizonians with first-hand knowledge of the problems they are confronting on the U.S.-Mexico border.  The witnesses presented us with a consistent message: The border is not secure.  Our witnesses testified that landowners do not feel safe in their own homes, that illegal crossings are becoming more violent, and that transnational criminal activity is rampant.  

I witnessed many of these realities last month when I traveled to the Rio Grande Valley sector with Senators Carper and Sasse.  On the Mexico side, towns are often controlled by drug- and human-smuggling cartels that roam the shore, surveying our side with impunity.  The nexus between drug and human trafficking needs to be understood.  These criminal activities complement each other.  

The level of violence and control by drug cartels on the Mexican side of the border is one of the most underreported aspects of border security. The lack of drug enforcement on the Mexican side is well illustrated with the following picture: 

Transnational criminal organizations are involved in drug smuggling, human smuggling, weapons smuggling, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, robbery, and terrorism.  Mexican cartels directly supply illicit drugs to cities throughout the U.S. and rely on U.S.-based gangs to further distribute drugs within the U.S.  Wisconsin is only one of many states experiencing a significant increase in heroin use, with much of the heroin transiting through Mexico. 

According to one study, drug smuggling is a $320 billion business worldwide, with almost half of the revenues being generated within the Americas ($150 billion).  

Human trafficking and smuggling is a profitable part of transnational crime.  Often, an individual or family must pay the cartel for permission to cross the border, and, in many cases, must actively assist the cartel in its drug operations.  It is not unusual for individuals after a successful crossing to be kidnapped by the smugglers they paid to help them cross.  They are then held until their family back home pays a ransom for their release.    

There is also a legitimate concern that terrorists from around the world could exploit our country’s porous borders to enter the U.S. undetected.  The potential for exploiting our lack of a secure border must be taken seriously given that there was a 70 percent increase in other-than-Mexicans (OTMs) crossing the southwest border from fiscal year 2013 to 2014.  This included individuals from Central American countries, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.  

Today we will hear from a variety of witnesses to learn more about the transnational criminal threats at both our southwestern and northern borders and how the consequences of unsecure international borders threaten the entire nation. Importantly, border security is not just about immigration reform.  Border security is about national security and public safety. 

I thank the witnesses for their willingness to share their experiences and I look forward to their testimony.