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Opinion Ted Cruz: Make ‘El Chapo’ pay for the border wall

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, as he is escorted from a plane by law enforcement officials at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., in January 2017. (Drug Enforcement Administration via AP) (AP)

Ted Cruz, a Republican, represents Texas in the U.S. Senate.

With Democrats and Republicans locked in a staring contest over border security, there’s a solution here that secures the border and won’t cost the taxpayers one dime: Let’s build a wall, and make El Chapo pay for it.

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the infamous Mexican drug lord also known as “El Chapo,” was convicted Tuesday by a New York jury on 10 counts in connection with his years-long international drug-smuggling operation. El Chapo will be sentenced in June; after a history of high-profile escapes, he is expected to be incarcerated for life in ADX Florence, a “Supermax” prison in Colorado which houses dangerous criminals ranging from al-Qaeda operatives to the Unabomber.

He deserves every day of a life sentence. In 2015, El Chapo boasted to Rolling Stone magazine that "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.” That year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50,000 Americans died from opioid and other drug overdoses in the United States. By 2017, that number had jumped to more than 70,000.

According to CNN, El Chapo claimed in 2014 that he had killed between 2,000 and 3,000 people. While exact numbers of Americans murdered by cartel members are difficult to determine, these deaths are a tragically regular occurrence, whether innocent teachers visiting Mexico or members of law enforcement in border states such as my own.

The former leader of the murderous Sinaloa cartel made a killing from the death, addiction and misery he trafficked, to the tune of $14 billion in ill-gotten revenue across the cartel’s operations. These criminal assets, which are forfeit to the federal government, should be used to stop future criminals such as El Chapo, and to protect Americans from the suffering that cartels and gangs such as MS-13 continue to export around the world.

That’s why I have reintroduced the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order (EL CHAPO) Act in the Senate. It would direct our government to use El Chapo’s drug fortune — and the fortunes of other drug lords — to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and invest in a border wall, technology, manpower and infrastructure that is sorely needed for comprehensive border security.

Criminal asset forfeiture can occur after a conviction in a variety of circumstances; when a criminal has used a building, car, or secret fund to conduct illegal activities, the government can take it away. In this case, the difference is the sheer size of El Chapo’s operation. No matter what fraction of El Chapo’s holdings the federal government manages to seize, it will put a dent in our nation’s border security bills without affecting any funds currently going to victims or law enforcement.

The Democratic Party should embrace this solution. In 2013, the vast majority of Senate Democrats voted for 350 miles of additional border fencing. But in the lead-up to the last government shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that President Trump’s request for 234 miles was unacceptable because it violated the president’s campaign promise to have Mexico pay for it.

“The American people are still paying the price,” Pelosi claimed in December. “Mexico is not paying for this wall.” Similarly, Schumer said: “The president repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for his unnecessary and ineffective border wall.” I’m sure that Americans are grateful for Pelosi and Schumer finding one cause they won’t tax-and-spend for.

But the EL CHAPO Act sidesteps these funding problems. Everyone should support taking money from murderers, drug smugglers and human traffickers such as El Chapo and using it to prevent murder, drug smuggling and human trafficking — all without costing the American taxpayers one dime, or adding anything to the federal budget. That’s what the EL CHAPO Act would do.

People across the United States are desperate for a sign that Washington is ready and willing to protect them from dangerous criminals and porous borders. And taxpayers of every political background appreciate the increasingly rare occasions when Congress is fiscally responsible. The EL CHAPO Act satisfies all of these reasonable concerns.

Congress has two clear mandates from the American people: secure the border and save money. So let’s build a wall, and make El Chapo pay for it.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Trump’s fixation on a wall looks juvenile. Democrats should learn from his mistakes.

Jennifer Rubin: How Trump lost the border-wall fight

Marc A. Thiessen: How Trump can get the rest of his wall money — without a shutdown or emergency

Greg Sargent: Trump’s wall of lies and illusions just cracked again