By Clare Ribando Seelke and Kristin Finklea for the Congressional Research Service.

Summary 

Violence perpetrated by a range of criminal groups continues to threaten citizen security and governance in some parts of Mexico, a country with which the United States shares a nearly 2,000-mile border and more than $530 billion in annual trade. Although organized crime-related violence in Mexico generally declined since 2011, analysts estimate that it may have claimed 100,000 lives since December 2006. High-profile cases—particularly the enforced disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico, in September 2014—have drawn attention to the problems of corruption and impunity for human rights abuses in Mexico.

Supporting Mexico’s efforts to reform its criminal justice system is widely regarded as crucial for combating criminality and better protecting citizen security in the country. U.S. support for those efforts has increased significantly as a result of the development and implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a bilateral partnership launched in 2007 for which Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion from FY2008 to FY2015. U.S. assistance focuses on (1) disrupting organized criminal groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) creating a 21st-century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities. Newer areas of focus have involved bolstering security along Mexico’s southern border and addressing drug production In Mexico. As of November 2015, more than $1.5 billion of Mérida Initiative assistance had been delivered.

Inaugurated to a six-year term in December 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has continued U.S.-Mexican security cooperation. U.S. intelligence has helped Mexico arrest top crime leaders, including Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán—the world’s most wanted drug trafficker—in February 2014. Guzmán’s July 2015 prison escape proved to be a major setback for bilateral efforts, but may make the Mexican government more amenable to U.S. extradition requests. Peña Nieto is attempting to comply with international recommendations on preventing torture and enforced disappearances and is focused on meeting a 2008 constitutional mandate that the country transition to an accusatorial justice system by June 2016. As of December 2015, 6 states had fully implemented the system, and 26 had partially implemented it.

The 114th Congress is continuing to fund and oversee the Mérida Initiative and related domestic initiatives. While the FY2015 request for the Mérida Initiative was for $115 million, Congress ultimately provided $143.6 million in P.L. 113-235. Additional funds are to support justice sector reform and Mexico’s southern border program.

The Obama Administration’s FY2016 request for the Mérida Initiative was for $119 million to help advance justice sector reform, modernize Mexico’s borders (north and south), and support violence prevention programs. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113) would provide at least $147.5 million for Mexico, including $139 million in accounts that have funded the Mérida Initiative. The final amount destined for the Mérida Initiative is as yet unclear, however. The bill would place human rights withholding requirements on Foreign Military Financing rather than Mérida Initiative assistance.

See also CRS In Focus IF10160, The Rule of Law in Mexico and the Mérida Initiative; CRS Report R43001, Supporting Criminal Justice System Reform in Mexico: The U.S. Role; and CRS In Focus IF10215, Mexico’s Recent Immigration Enforcement Efforts.

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