Bennet, Grassley, Espaillat, Bipartisan Colleagues Urge Senate Appropriations Committee to Address Illegal Weapons Trafficking

Lawmakers Push for Inter-Agency Report to Monitor the Effects of Illicit Trafficking on the Western Hemisphere

Denver — U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), alongside 17 bipartisan, bicameral colleagues urged the Senate and House Appropriations Committees to address illicit weapons trafficking operations in the Western Hemisphere. 

“Recently, members of Congress have expressed reasonable concern regarding federal agencies’ efforts to prevent firearms trafficking from the United States into Latin America and the Caribbean.  For instance, recent reports have shown that 70 percent of illegal guns recovered in Mexico are sourced from the United States,” wrote Bennet, Grassley, Espaillat, and the lawmakers. “Transnational criminal organizations operating in Mexico then use these weapons to wage their drug war through violence, terrorism, and intimidation, often with little resistance from Mexican authorities.”

The White House National Security Council has identified countering and preventing violence, illicit trafficking networks, and corruption driven by criminal organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean as critical factors in addressing the root causes of migration from the region to the United States. Illegal weapons trafficking also increases violence and corruption, harming democracy and handicapping economies – giving people more reason to flee their homes. 

The lawmakers urge the leaders of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to include language in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) government funding bill requiring an inter-agency report to monitor and combat weapons trafficking and study its effects on violence, economic opportunity, and corruption in the region.

“Experts suggest China, Russia, and Iran have taken advantage of the economic instability and corruption to increase their influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States Congress must act swiftly in stemming the current flow of illicit guns from the U.S. to transnational criminal organizations who exploit government corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean,” concluded the lawmakers. “We urge you to support the inclusion of this report language in the FY 2025 SFOPS Appropriations bill.”

Earlier this year, Bennet and Espaillat – alongside U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and U.S. Representative Maria Salazar (R-Fla.) – introduced bipartisan legislation to create an ever-expanding and permanent trade partnership across the Western Hemisphere. The Americas Act is the only major strategic economic plan to renew U.S. partnerships across Latin America and the Caribbean, strengthen the rule of law, deepen shared prosperity, and offer a compelling alternative to China’s growing influence. 

In addition to Bennet, Grassley, and Espaillat, U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and seven U.S. Representatives also signed the letter.

The text of the letter is available HERE and below. 

Dear Chairwoman Murray, Vice Chairwoman Collins, Chairman Coons, Ranking Member Graham, Chairman Cole, Ranking Member DeLauro, Chairman Diaz-Balart, and Ranking Member Lee:

Thank you for your efforts to advance the safety and security of America, and promote democracy globally. As you know, combating weapons trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean is critical to the region’s economic success, our border security, and our strategic position in the hemisphere. As you determine priorities for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations bill, we respectfully request that you include the following report language: 

“Monitoring and combating the illegal sale and trafficking of weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean – Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the Senate Committee on Commerce, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the House Committee on Appropriations, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the House Committee on the Judiciary, and the House Committee on Homeland Security, a report on how the Department of State coordinates with the Secretary of Commerce, the Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations, and the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to monitor and prevent the illegal export of firearms from the United States to unauthorized recipients in Latin America and the Caribbean; assess the impacts of illegal trafficking, increased violence, and corruption on democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean; and how the United States will enhance cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean countries to divert the illegal trafficking of weapons.” 

This FY 2025 request would build on the SFOPS subcommittee’s commitment to curbing illicit trafficking operations in the Western Hemisphere. It would also expand that effort to monitor and combat weapons trafficking and study its effects on violence, economic opportunity, and corruption in the region. 

Countering and preventing violence, illicit trafficking networks, and corruption driven by criminal organizations in Latin America has been identified, by the National Security Council, as a key factor in addressing the root causes of migration from the region to the United States. Recently, members of Congress have expressed reasonable concern regarding federal agencies’ efforts to prevent firearms trafficking from the United States into Latin America and the Caribbean. For instance, recent reports have shown that 70 percent of illegal guns recovered in Mexico are sourced from the United States. Transnational criminal organizations operating in Mexico then use these weapons to wage their drug war through violence, terrorism, and intimidation, often with little resistance from Mexican authorities.  

Similarly, half of all illegal guns present in Central America can be linked back to America. This rate approaches 80 percent in the Caribbean, and experts trace more than 90 percent of the firearms used in homicides in the Bahamas to the United States, as well as approximately 85 percent of firearms seized in Barbados. The U.S. Government Accountability Office also found that more than 40 percent of crime-related guns recovered in El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize originated in the United States. Nearly every country in the region is affected by illicitly trafficked guns. In Haiti, gangs recently wrestled control of over 80 percent of the Haitian capital city, armed largely with guns manufactured in the U.S.

Experts suggest China, Russia, and Iran have taken advantage of the economic instability and corruption to increase their influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States Congress must act swiftly in stemming the current flow of illicit guns from the U.S. to transnational criminal organizations who exploit government corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean. We urge you to support the inclusion of this report language in the FY 2025 SFOPS Appropriations bill. 

Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to working with you in the FY 2025 appropriations legislation to prevent illicit arms trafficking, promote stability throughout the region, and ensure the United States retains its strategic position supporting our Western Hemisphere partners.