Tester Presses Attorney General Garland to Tackle Growing Influence of Mexican Drug Cartels in Indian Country Ahead of Montana Visit

Senator urges head of Department of Justice to use full force of agency to tackle crime, improve public safety on reservations in Montana

As a part of his tireless effort to tackle drug trafficking and improve public safety in Indian Country, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland to use the full force of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat the Mexican drug cartels preying on Indian reservations in Montana ahead of the Attorney General’s Tuesday visit to Montana.

“I appreciate you taking the time to tour these communities as well as meet with local leaders and law enforcement officials,” wrote Tester in a letter to Attorney General Garland regarding his trip to the Crow Indian Reservation near Billings, Montana. “During your trip, I ask that you listen to folks on the ground and learn more about the devastating impact fentanyl is having on Montana and how the Department of Justice (DOJ) can act aggressively to help combat this scourge… It is critical that the DOJ continues to build strong relationships with these local communities in order to combat this rising threat and ensure criminals are held accountable.”

In his letter, Tester cited the dangerous combination of legal loopholes, under-resourced law enforcement, sparsely populated communities, and exorbitant profits that cartels can make selling fentanyl further from the southern border, as leading causes for the emerging crisis. Noting similarities between the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis, Tester added that complex jurisdictional rules and the fact Tribal law enforcement agencies have been under-resourced and under-staffed for decades, are reasons that cartels are targeting Montana reservations.

Tester continued, “I have heard directly from Montanans about how cartels are targeting Native women and using homes on reservations as safe houses and distribution hubs. They are able to operate with impunity because of complex jurisdictional rules and the fact that Tribal law enforcement agencies have been under-resourced and under-staffed for decades. This problem is also directly connected to the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) crisis, as communities are reporting more instances of sexual abuse, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic violence.” 

Tester also noted the continued calls for more Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and resources in order to support local law enforcement efforts and combat international drug trafficking operations, and to increase prosecutions to in order to hold criminals accountable and send a strong message to anyone considering committing these crimes in Montana.

Tester concluded, “We cannot continue to allow cartels to take advantages of holes in our justice system. I appreciate you traveling to Montana to hear directly from Tribal members, law enforcement officers, and community leaders in Montana who are on the front lines of this crisis. I encourage you to do everything possible to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to keep their communities safe.”

As a member of the Indian Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester is committed to standing up for Tribal sovereignty, providing funding for Tribal justice programs, and increasing public safety in Indian County. He secured more than $910 million to support public safety and address the MMIP crisis in the 2023 government funding bill.

Tester has long been a leader in working to address the fentanyl crisis, combat the cartels trafficking drugs to Montana, and secure the southern border. Earlier this month, Tester voted to secure the southern border, in part to crack down on international drug trafficking – but politicians in Congress blocked the bipartisan border security legislation. Prior to President Biden’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Tester urged the President to use all remaining tools at his disposal to strengthen border security before things deteriorate further. Tester has also pressed congressional leaders to pass the bipartisan border security legislation in light of new reporting detailing that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is facing a dangerous budget shortfall that could result in the release of thousands of detainees.

Additionally, as part of his continued efforts to secure America’s borders and combat the deadly flow of fentanyl into Montana, recently Senator Tester successfully included his bipartisan Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act as part of a critical national security package that passed the U.S. Senate. 

Read a memo outlining the facts about the bipartisan border security proposal HERE.

Read Tester’s full letter to Attorney General Garland HERE.


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