Mexican officials have steadfastly opposed Donald Trump’s call for a border wall, but the country could benefit from tighter security, according to some experts.
Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu reiterated after the election that Mexico would not pay for the wall . But a wall — and the overall increased security presence that it symbolizes — may stop more than people and drugs heading north. It could help stem the flow of illegal guns that regularly travel south.
“It just stands to reason that if certain areas get a wall or other good barrier, those areas are going to be safer on the American side and the Mexican side, as well.”
“It just stands to reason that if certain areas get a wall or other good barrier, those areas are going to be safer on the American side and the Mexican side, as well,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
The United States, with its wide availability of guns, has long been a key source of firearms for Mexico’s notoriously violent drug cartels. According to a study last year by the Mexican government’s research service, CESOP, about 2,000 U.S. guns illegally enter the country every day. The report estimated that 85 percent of guns in circulation in the country in 2012 were illegal.
Some 40 percent of guns used by Mexican drug traffickers come from Texas, alone, according to the study.
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The U.S. Government Accountability Office, using Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives data, estimated last year that 73,648 firearms seized in Mexico and handed over to ATF to be traced during a five-year period came from the United States. That was 70 percent of the total.
The GAO report indicated that most of the guns originated as legal purchases at gun shops in the United States and then were sold illegally in Mexico.
Vaughan said those guns play a large role in destabilizing Mexico. Making them harder to obtain would have a positive impact, she said.
Like drugs, it is unrealistic to believe that the black market gun trade could be eliminated, Vaughan said. But she added that an increased focus on the southwest border could make it harder to move weapons and drive up the cost. She compared it to efforts to shut down the easy flow of cocaine up the East Coast from Central America.
Drug traffickers responded to those efforts by moving supply routes through Mexico.
“Every time it moves, it gets more difficult,” she said.
It is unclear how much a wall or a fence — which Trump suggested after his election  that he’d be willing to accept in certain places — combined with more immigration enforcement officers, would do to dent gun trafficking, since U.S. officials are far more concerned with stopping drugs and illegal immigrants.
“Ultimately, what’s coming into Mexico is really the responsibility of the Mexican government, and certainly we ought to cooperate with them,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Even if tighter security measures and better cooperation with Mexico were to stop some of the gun trafficking, some experts warn it could have the unintended consequence of making it harder for regular Mexicans to obtain weapons for self-defense.
Topher McDougal, a University of San Diego professor who has studied the black market gun trade, said part of the surge in gun smuggling after then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels in 2006 was due to people trying to protect their families from the ensuing spike in violence. Legal gun ownership is tightly regulated, making it hard to get weapons through conventional means.
Sophisticated criminal enterprises probably are better equipped than normal citizens to get around increased security or absorb the higher prices that successful interdiction efforts would cause, McDougal said.
“That’s the worry,” he said. “The more you clamp down, the greater the potential for profits.”
Higher profits derived from the greater risk of smuggling that a border crackdown would cause could perversely strengthen cartels, McDougal said.
“The only people who can benefit from that are illegal actors,” he said.
Mehlman said his organization focuses on immigration — not drug or weapons trafficking issues. On that score, he said the incoming Trump administration needs a more comprehensive plan than building a wall. He noted that up to 50 percent of all illegal immigrants come legally on visas and then remain illegally after those documents expire.
“Our view is you need physical barriers,” he said. “But just as important is psychological barriers you send to people, ‘Hey, don’t come here because you won’t benefit.'”