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Armed officers in La Mora, Sonora state, Mexico, stand near the funeral services for three of the nine victims of an ambush attack on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Three mothers and six children were killed by suspected cartel members while driving in a remote, mountainous region in the state of Sonora near the border of Chihuahua.

Dan Rascon, Deseret News

Sen. Mike Lee seeks sanctions on Mexican drug cartels in wake of killings

SHARE Sen. Mike Lee seeks sanctions on Mexican drug cartels in wake of killings
SHARE Sen. Mike Lee seeks sanctions on Mexican drug cartels in wake of killings

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee wants the U.S. government to impose sanctions on the Mexican drug cartels responsible for brutally killing nine Americans in northern Mexico earlier this month.

Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sent a letter Monday to the Treasury Department, the secretary of state and the FBI asking for aggressive sanctions against the cartels under two U.S. laws, including one called the Kingpin Act.

“This crime cannot go unpunished,” the senators wrote.

The senators say the Mexican government must “unequivocally” understand that the United States will respond strongly to cartel violence and corruption that directly impacts American citizens.

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“This attack has removed any pretense that the violence south of the U.S. border is contained. Mexico is leaning dangerously toward becoming a failed state. The cartels and gangs must know that the United States will respond to ensure they do not continue to threaten the American people,” said Lee, who has said Congress should consider declaring Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

Three women and six children were murdered in ambush attacks about 5 miles outside of La Mora, a decades-old settlement in the state of Sonora founded by early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.

The Mexican government has said it believes the victims were caught in the midst of a territorial dispute between rival drug cartels. Mexican authorities say they have made an unspecified number of arrests in the case. The FBI is helping with the investigation.

“The administration ought to use every legal avenue to bring these butchers to justice. Sanctions ought to be the first step in a coordinated effort to wage a smart, full-scale offensive against the cartels and gangs that are terrorizing our southern border,” Sasse said.

In the letter, the senators say Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s security policy is insufficient to address this drug-fueled crisis of violence and lawlessness.

“What is required is the imposition of physical and financial costs on the cartels to deny them both territory and economic resources, the senators wrote.

The Kingpin Act allows the president to deny foreign narcotics traffickers, their related businesses and their operatives access to the U.S. financial system and to prohibit all trade and transactions between the traffickers and U.S. companies and individuals.

In addition, the president may block or revoke the visas of foreign individuals and entities if they are responsible for killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Lee and Sasse want a briefing on the administration’s efforts to impose sanctions and pressure the Mexican government to act in a way that better safeguards Americans within 60 days after the FBI ends its help in the investigation.