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S. 939 (115th): EL CHAPO Act

What should be done with the $14 billion that drug lord “El Chapo” will have to forfeit if he’s convicted later this year?

Context

The notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman amassed a fortune of an estimated $14 billion between the 1980s and his 2014 arrest. In 2017, he was extradited to New York City to face 17 counts of criminal charges.

If he’s found guilty during his trial beginning in September — as legal experts essentially all agree that he will — what should be done with the money and assets he forfeits?

What the bill does

The EL CHAPO Act would put any amounts forfeited by either “El Chapo” — or anybody else convicted of selling or transporting illegal narcotics across the border — into construction of a border wall with Mexico.

The full name of the legislation is the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act. It was introduced in April 2017 by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), labelled S. 39.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill will punish criminal masterminds, help border security, and goes a way towards President Trump’s promise that “Mexico will pay for the wall” in a way that even many Trump opposers could get behind. (No Democrat publicly supports El Chapo.)

“Fourteen billion dollars will go a long way toward building a wall that will keep Americans safe and hinder the illegal flow of drugs, weapons, and individuals across our southern border,” Cruz said in a press release. “Ensuring the safety and security of Texans is one of my top priorities. We must also be mindful of the impact on the federal budget. By leveraging any criminally forfeited assets of El Chapo and his ilk, we can offset the wall’s cost and make meaningful progress toward achieving President Trump’s stated border security objectives.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that any drug forfeiture money should be used as it always has been used: more training and equipment for law enforcement personnel.

“Congress has provided for decades that criminal proceeds should be used for restitution to victims and then for financing law enforcement operations, not for projects that members of Congress might just happen to think are desirable on a particular day,” former Justice Department official Stef Cassella told Reuters. “The law enforcement agencies have always resisted efforts to raid the fund [Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund] to pay for other pet projects and I suspect law enforcement agencies will have the same reaction to this proposal.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted only one other cosponsor so far: Sen. David Purdue (R-GA). It awaits a possible vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Trump has revised his original campaign promise slightly to say that America will pay for the wall “up front” and Mexico will pay for it “later.” Yet as recently as January, Trump still maintained on Twitter that “The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. The $20 billion dollar Wall is “peanuts” compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!”

Last updated Feb 22, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Apr 25, 2017.


Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act or the EL CHAPO Act

This bill requires the forfeited profits of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera (El Chapo) from his illicit drug trafficking enterprise to be reserved for border security measures between the United States and Mexico, including the completion of a wall.

Additionally, it requires the forfeited funds from the felony conviction of a member of a drug cartel to be reserved for border security measures between the United States and Mexico, including the completion of a wall.