Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, wants Mexican drug-smuggling organizations designated as terrorists.
A bill he has proposed would help authorities go after cartels and those who assist them, he said during a May 11 hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
"Federal law defines terrorism as activity that is intended to intimidate a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping," McCaul said during the hearing. "In my judgment, the drug cartels fall squarely within this definition."
One factor behind the push is the violent turf battles in Mexico between drug-smuggling organizations, which killed more than 34,500 people from December 2006 to December 2010, says the Trans Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
The highly publicized death of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico in February escalated concerns even more. Zapata was killed when gunmen attacked a vehicle he was in with another agent in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi.
Classifying Mexican organized-crime groups as terrorist organization would be ill-advised because they are "clearly illicit business enterprises that lack any political motivation other than profit," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute.
Given the chaotic and unpredictable violent conflict in Mexico, the cartels are a real and present danger to the United States, Shirk testified in late March before a House Committee on Homeland Security. But designating them as terrorists could present a serious problem to U.S. foreign policy.
"The concept of terrorism will be so expansive we could apply the same label to virtually any group of illicit actors that coerce through scare tactics and intimidation: human traffickers, kidnappers, U.S. gangs, and maybe even FIFA," Shirk wrote in an email. FIFA, world soccer's governing body, is embroiled in a bribery and corruption scandal.
But McCaul says the cartels are a growing national-security threat to both the U.S. and Mexico. His bill, which has been referred to committee, would give cartels reason to be afraid, he said.
"In my view, Mexico is losing this war and so are we," he said on May 11. "The cartels do not fear U.S. law enforcement."