Cartel Threats Silence Witness At Congressional Hearing

A tribal leader from the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana disclosed this week that a fellow leader was coerced into withdrawing from testifying because of death threats from a Mexican drug cartel. The House Natural Resources Committee convened on Wednesday to delve into the alarming influence of cartel operations on reservations, only to learn that their investigation was being actively undermined by cartel intimidation.

Tribal President Jeffrey Stiffarm told lawmakers about the intimidation without naming the threatened individual. In pointing out how pervasive the cartel presence is now, he said the Mexican criminal gangs are now “overrunning” tribal reservations inside the U.S.

“We’re fighting a losing battle and the cartels are winning,” he added.

Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) took a stand on behalf of tribal communities. “Joe Biden’s open border policies have had detrimental effects on Indian country, with drugs and cartels infiltrating these communities at an alarming rate,” he told fellow lawmakers.

The oversight hearing highlighted not just the immediate threats but also the systemic failure to protect Indigenous territories from escalating cartel influence. While tribal leaders like Tohono O’odham Chairman Verlon Jose sought actionable solutions, the meeting ended with a sense of disillusionment about the lack of commitment from federal authorities.

Jessica Vaughan with the Center for Immigration Studies appeared to testify in the place of the tribal leader who canceled their appearance. She provided detailed information about the depth of cartel infiltration into daily tribal life. Vaughan answered detailed questions about how outside criminal influences are threatening the public safety on tribal lands and how the sovereignty guaranteed by the federal government is under direct attack.

Ultimately, the federal response to this crisis will test the administration’s resolve and its ability to collaborate with tribal leaders to forge effective solutions against a backdrop of increasing cartel power. The path forward should ideally combine enhanced border security measures with greater autonomy for tribal authorities, crafting a dual approach that respects tribal sovereignty while fortifying the nation against transnational criminal organizations.

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