The Obama/MS-13 International Boundary Agreement

by RICHARD J. DOUGLAS July 29, 2014

The Administration of Barack Obama and his Latin American partners - chiefly the MS-13 crime syndicate and the Mexican cartels - appear to have reached agreement on redrawing the international boundary line between the United States and Mexico.  Although the parties to the new boundary agreement made no formal announcement, conduct on both sides makes clear that there is consensus on erasing the existing boundary line and starting over.

For years MS-13 and the Mexican cartels have disregarded the existing boundary.  These organizations have demonstrated the determination, capacity and freedom to send people and contraband northward across the boundary essentially at will, at hours and locations of their own choosing.  Such conduct makes clear that these organizations have been open for many years to a renegotiation of the boundary line, but lacked only a willing U.S. partner.  They found that partner in President Barack Obama.

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama and his Cabinet have also manifested a firm rejection of the current U.S. - Mexico international boundary, which has its origin with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase a decade later.

For instance, the Obama Administration has been silent on the damaging impact within the U.S. of MS-13 and cartel disregard for the existing U.S.-Mexico line.  In fact, President Obama and senior Democratic leaders have directly supported MS-13 and cartel policy goals by endorsing programs and plans which diminish the boundary's effectiveness.

Another indication of Obama Administration repudiation of the Guadalupe/Gadsden line is the President's transfer of border security responsibilities to MS-13 and the cartels.  By ceding the initiative on border security policy to them, President Obama leaves no doubt about his indifference to the current boundary line and his readiness to redraw it.

Finally, the Obama Administration demonstrates its rejection of the existing U.S.-Mexico boundary line by announcing policy initiatives, grounded in executive orders rather than statute, which favor the enrichment of MS-13 and its cartel partners.  By encouraging human trafficking and narcotics trafficking, and by doing nothing to foster Central American development or to deter employment of unlawful entrants in the U.S., the President signals MS-13 and the cartels that their White House partner will not interfere with their earnings in Latin America or in the U.S.

The contours of President Obama's new boundary agreement with MS-13 and the cartels are not well-known.  They are expected to include provisions suppressing U.S. visa requirements for MS-13 and cartel personnel, and extending certain forms of immunity from prosecution for past criminal activity.  The new boundary agreement is also expected to protect MS-13 and cartel members from deportation, and lead eventually to expeditious grants to them of lawful permanent residence and U.S. citizenship.

According to reports, the Administration deems its pact with MS-13 and the Mexican cartels to be an "executive agreement."  Thus, it must be reported to Congress under the 1972 Case-Zablocki Act, but will not require Senate approval.  Because Senate approval is not required, the American people will be unlikely to feel the full effect of the new boundary agreement until it is actually in force.

 

The new agreement will enter into force when representatives of the U.S., MS-13, and the cartels exchange signed copies of the pact, a formality expected during the August 2014 congressional recess.  Elected officials in Mexico and Central America have been quiet about the new agreement, but reportedly favor it.  Only El Salvador's government (installed in 2014 with broad MS-13 support) has openly praised the agreement.  El Salvador's government offered to host a ceremony in San Salvador at which Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders of MS-13 and the cartels may exchange signed copies of the new agreement.

While the new boundary agreement will erase the U.S.-Mexico border as it has existed since the mid-19th century, the agreement nonetheless leaves undone the task of fixing a replacement international boundary.  A growing consensus points to re-establishing the Adams-Onis boundary line of 1819, fixed between a fledgling United States and what was, at the time, the colony of New Spain.  That boundary tracked the western edge of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.  In 2014, falling back to the Adams-Onis line (named for its U.S. and Spanish negotiators) would return the southern terminus of the international border to the Sabine River, between Orange, Texas, and Vinton, Louisiana.

This seems relatively straightforward, given that the Adams-Onis line is a known quantity which served as our western international boundary from 1819 to 1848.  But in 2014 the Obama/MS-13 boundary agreement poses a question which did not concern Messrs. Onis and Adams in 1819, to wit:  when the Obama/MS-13 agreement comes into force, and pushes the U.S. boundary clear across Texas to the Sabine River, will Texas reclaim its independence, or revert to Mexico?

On that question, both the White House and the State Department declined to comment.

Richard J. Douglas served as Chief Counsel at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the late Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC).  Contact him at richardjdouglas@gmail.com

Richard J. Douglas served in the Bush Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter-narcotics and Counter-proliferation.  He is an Iraq veteran (Navy) and a Maryland lawyer.


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