HomeNewsAnalysisDoes US Congress Act Equal More LatAm Extraditions?

Does US Congress Act Equal More LatAm Extraditions?


Congress is considering a proposal meant to help the Department of Justice pursue a wider range of players in the transnational drug trade, potentially foreshadowing an increase in extraditions and prosecutions of drug traffickers based abroad.

The Transnational Drug Trafficking Act of 2015 was passed by the Senate in October and is currently making its way through the House of Representatives. The bill is meant to make it easier for US authorities to build extradition cases on traffickers who use other criminal organizations -- such as those based in Mexico -- as intermediaries when moving drugs to the US. 

As the Senate press release states, this would particularly help the Department of Justice in building cases against criminal groups based in Andean countries like Colombia and Peru, who work with Mexican cartels in trafficking drugs northwards.  

The bill does this, in part, by modifying US drug laws so that if there is "reasonable cause to believe" that someone is trying to unlawfully bring drugs into the US, or 12 miles off the US coast, that person can be prosecuted.  

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the bill, told InSight Crime that adding the "reasonable cause to believe" provision is necessary because "it has become more difficult to prove that South American manufacturers knew or intended that the drugs would end up in the United States," due to their use of Mexican trafficking groups as intermediaries.

"The addition of the provision, 'having reasonable cause to believe,' would lower the… threshold needed to prove that the defendant knew that the drugs were destined for the United States," Grassley said.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

The act inserts a similar provision for drug laws concerning precursor chemicals used for drug production. According to Grassley, this provision “would address the individuals or [drug trafficking organizations] that know the chemicals they’re trafficking will be used to produce illicit drugs, even though they may not be directly involved in manufacturing or transporting the drugs into the United States.”

The legislation also adds a provision that forbids using counterfeit marks to traffic any drug. If enacted, this provision could be applied to traffickers who use forged corporate logos to identify shipments of illicit drugs, as well as those trafficking in counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

InSight Crime Analysis

At the moment, it is difficult to discern to what extent this proposal would impact US extraditions of foreign drug trafficking suspects. 

Supporters of the legislation claim the proposed changes would eliminate obstacles faced by the Department of Justice in building extradition cases against foreign kingpins, especially those operating in the Andean region. But the broad scope of the bill has raised concerns that it could be used to target small-time players as well.

It appears even the bill's designers are not in total agreement over who it will target. When asked whether the legislation would specifically target top figures in the drug trade, Grassley told InSight Crime that the proposed law “could be used across the spectrum of individuals and Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs).”

Responding to the same question, Representative Tom Marino, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, said its "primary purpose is to target source producers of controlled substances and precursor chemicals who know or should know that they are being sent to the United States."

Even if the act passes, there are a few reasons why a major spike in extraditions and prosecutions -- especially concerning low-level drug producers like coca farmers -- is unlikely. Dan Schneider, a former federal criminal prosecutor who now teaches at American University, questioned whether the expansive provisions would hold up under legal scrutiny.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extradition

“Usually the intent requirement in criminal law…has to be some fairly high level of intent,” Schneider told InSight Crime. “But this seems to be a lower threshold for the intent requirement. And it’s possible that this requirement, if passed, would run afoul of the US Constitution in that regard.”

Moreover, US federal drug crime prosecutions have generally experienced a slow decline in recent years. With the United States moving toward reducing criminal penalties for low-level offenders domestically, it seems implausible that the government would seek to lower the bar on extraditions for drug-related offenses.  

From both a political and practical perspective, extradition remains a controversial topic. Extraditing foreign suspects to the United States can mitigate the chances they will avoid prosecution -- or escape prison -- due to corruption in their home country. But critics argue the common practice of allowing criminals to trade information for reduced sentences diminishes the deterrent effect of US prosecution.

Considering this context, the bill’s passage into law would likely represent more of a tweak rather than a rehaul of US foreign drug policy.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


InSight Co-director Steven Dudley talks with Douglas Farah, an award-winning journalist who worked for the Washington Post and…


The Mexican government has done little to protect migrants from organized criminal groups like the Zetas, says a report released…

MEXICO / 8 AUG 2012

Mexico will open two privately run prisons by the end of the year in an effort to relieve pressure on…

About InSight Crime


Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…


InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…


InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.


Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…


Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.