Why 1971 Matters to Illegal Immigrants

When President Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971 did he also trigger an increase in illegal immigration?  Will solving America’s immigration crisis also require declaring an end to the War on Drugs?

In October 1970, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.  Shortly thereafter, in 1971, President Nixon declared the “War on Drugs”.  Virtually overnight the government was given a legal foundation from which to fight against drug abuse and to categorize substances.  The DEA gained a new realm of investigatory powers and the National Institute on Drug Abuse was formed.

However, the War on Drugs did not eliminate the market for drugs within the United States.  Today 46% of adults say that they have tried drugs and 60 million specifically admit to having used Marijuana.  But, with the DEA hard at work destroying Marijuana crops and other drug manufacturing facilities, a demand was created for imported drugs.  But, how might these drugs be being imported when doing so is illegal?

Between 1969 and 2009 the population of illegal immigrants who traveled from Mexico to the US rose from 540,000 to 11,100,000.  This means that in 1960 only 0.3% of the US population was undocumented, but by 2009 3.6% were.  What also grew during these years were Mexico’s drug cartels, and despite declining economic conditions in Mexico their financial status has continued to flourish.  Reports show that the Mexican drug cartel has created much of that fortune by moving drugs into the US strapped to the backs of illegal immigrants who have agreed to smuggle in exchange for free or reduced cost of passage into the US.  Some illegal immigrants have reported that they didn’t want to smuggle but were told by the cartel that they would be killed if they refused.

In 2011, US Border Patrol seized 158 tons of illegal drugs moving into the US.  They also stopped 100,000 individuals trying to cross the border.  However, the demand for drugs continues to rise within the United States and few will argue that the War on Drugs has not been lost.  But, can the government now cut their losses and mitigate the immigration crisis by formally ending the drug war?