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Biden administration announces plan with Mexico to fight fentanyl and firearms

In return for Mexico cracking down on fentanyl trafficking, the Justice Department is agreeing to do more to trace gun flow from the U.S. to Mexico.
Tijuana Story
Hundreds of pounds of fentanyl and meth seized near Ensenada, Mexico, in 2022. Salwan Georges / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The Biden administration announced Friday that it is increasing cooperation with Mexico to combat the trafficking of fentanyl coming north into the U.S. while also cracking down on the trafficking of guns going south into Mexico.

NBC News was first to report that the two countries were negotiating such an agreement.

On Friday, the Justice Department also revealed charges in three federal courts against the Sinaloa cartel for fentanyl trafficking, including charges against four sons of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, and the Treasury Department announced sanctions against two Chinese companies and five people in China and Guatemala for their alleged roles in the trade.

Mexico has at times been resistant to cooperation with the U.S. on the issue of combating fentanyl. Most of the illicit supply of the potent synthetic opioid that comes into the U.S. is manufactured in Mexico from raw materials sent from China.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a speech in March that fentanyl is America’s problem and that none of the drug is produced in his country.

“Here, we do not produce fentanyl, and we do not have consumption of fentanyl,” López Obrador said, suggesting that the U.S. instead take care of its problem of “social decay.”

A delegation of Mexican officials met with the Biden administration on Thursday, the White House said, and agreed to implement a strategy for combating fentanyl first agreed to by Biden and López Obrador in January.

“This special working group will improve coordination among Mexico’s federal government entities to support the investigation and arrest of individuals involved in the production and trafficking of fentanyl. The United States and Mexico committed to continue joint work to dismantle the fentanyl supply chain and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel on both sides of the border,” the White House said in a statement, referring to Mexican drug cartels heavily involved in fentanyl production and manufacturing.

One sticking point for Mexicans in negotiations with Americans over fentanyl, as NBC News previously reported, was the high number of U.S.-made guns that end up in Mexico, contributing to violence in the country. As part of the negotiations, the Justice Department is agreeing to do more to trace gun flow from the U.S. to Mexico.

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are deploying new authorities from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to target southbound firearms flows and working with Mexican counterparts to increase firearms tracing to identify and choke off the source of firearms flows into Mexico,” the White House said in its statement.

Several sources familiar with the negotiations have stressed that the increased commitment for cooperation is not in itself a formal “deal” between the countries and there still will be room for improvement and a need to see results from both sides.

On Friday, the Justice Department announced federal charges in New York, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. against several leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel and alleged associates — more than two dozen defendants in all, including the four "Chapitos," or sons of "El Chapo" Guzmán.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department had taken "significant enforcement actions against the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world — run by the Sinaloa Cartel, and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies.”