International human and drug smuggling rings that find safe haven across the Mexican border will be targeted under agreements between U.S. and Mexican prosecutors announced Wednesday in Phoenix.
Mexican attorneys general vowed better cooperation in prosecuting organized smuggling gangs that have operated openly there in the past. Federal and state authorities in Mexico also agreed to work closely with their American counterparts to identify and shut down money laundering operations that finance cross-border criminal gangs.
As part of the agreements, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said he will push for changes in federal gun laws to make it easier to track arms dealers who smuggle weapons into Mexico.
The change would require people who buy multiple rifles in a single transaction to file a disclosure form, similar to one now required for multiple handgun purchases.
Goddard said the law would only be effective if passed at the federal level, but acknowledged that the idea is "going nowhere" in Congress.
GANGS WAGING WAR
Mexican smuggling gangs are so well-armed with weapons smuggled from the U.S. that they are waging open war against Mexican police, Goddard said.
He added that the minor change in federal law would make it possible to identify criminal arms dealers.
"We heard loud and clear that there is an active, fighting war being fought in Mexico, and that prosecutors and investigators in Mexico are dying," Goddard said of his discussions with his Mexican counterparts. "If we are going to get their assistance in going after drug traffickers and going after human traffickers and going after money launderers, the message we got is please stop sending weapons to Mexico that are killing our police officers."
The pledge of better cooperation against organized smuggling gangs was announced at a news conference in Phoenix that closed three days of meetings between more than a dozen attorneys general from U.S. and Mexican states.
The crux of the agreement is that police and prosecutors on both sides of the border will work more closely to investigate criminal organizations that smuggle immigrants and drugs into the U.S., as well as guns into Mexico.
In the past, smugglers could simply cross into Mexico to escape prosecution by U.S. authorities, Goddard said. There was a mechanism to seek prosecution in Mexico, but that was available only in cases that were ready for indictment, he said.
Under the new agreement, Mexican authorities will work closely with their American counterparts to investigate cases in which particular suspects may not have been identified, Goddard said.
There also will be better cooperation in going after the finances of criminal organizations, which typically use legitimate money transmitters to move the proceeds of their smuggling activities across the border, Goddard said.
AIMING FOR THE MONEY
Interrupting the flow of money will be the most effective means of breaking organized smuggling rings, said Noe Ramirez Mandujano, special assistant to the Mexican federal attorney general who specializes in organized crime.
Mexican immigrants are frequently victims of violent crimes committed by human smugglers, including murder, extortion and sexual assault, Ramirez said.
"Our purpose is to combat this sort of thing because we are not simply referring to the victimization of an individual," Ramirez said. "We are talking about the victimization of a country and humanity as a whole."