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MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican government is on track to increase the number of extraditions of criminal suspects to the United States this year, as the Trump administration has pressured Mexico to step up its fight against organized crime.

With the first two months of this year not yet over, the government already has extradited at least 30 suspects to the United States, an acceleration of extraditions from the pace of recent years. In all of 2019, 58 suspects were extradited to the U.S., according to Mexico's attorney general's office, with 69 sent in 2018 and 57 in 2017.

The increased numbers in the early months of 2020 come as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, who took office in December 2018, has struggled to show gains in his government's effort to rein in organized crime groups and the violence they sow.

"The security of the region is a shared responsibility," Mexico's Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Monday. "All of Mexico's actions on security, including extraditions, comply with our current legal framework and respond to the national interest and the commitment to provide security for Mexicans."

Last year, Mexico recorded more than 34,500 slayings, the highest tally since the government started keeping such data in the late 1990s.

Several recent acts of violence have highlighted the gravity of the nation's security situation, cost the Lopez Obrador administration public support and fed concern among U.S. officials.

In October 2019, gunmen working for the Sinaloa Cartel paralyzed Culiacan, a major Mexican city, forcing the government to release the captured son of imprisoned drug trafficking kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera, better known as El Chapo.

The next month, three women and six of their children, all dual citizens of the United States and Mexico, were killed in an ambush in northern Mexico by suspected members of a criminal group that holds sway over parts of the northern border region.

After that attack, Trump said on Twitter that the time had come "for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth."

Several weeks later, Trump said he planned to designate Mexican drug trafficking groups as foreign terrorist organizations because of the high number of Americans killed by their activities.

Trump eventually backed off the threat after push-back from Mexican officials who suggested that the designation could challenge their nation's sovereignty and jeopardize bilateral relations. Analysts interpreted Trump's designation threat as a way to force the Mexican government to strengthen its fight against criminal groups and the corruption that enables them.

Since making the threat, Trump has twice sent Attorney General William Barr to Mexico City for bilateral meetings with Mexican authorities.

In early December, Barr met with Lopez Obrador; Alejandro Gertz Manero, Mexico's attorney general; and other officials to discuss gang violence, immigration corruption and the trafficking of drugs, weapons and migrants.

They vowed to work more closely to prosecute members of the transnational gangs that control Mexico's illegal drug trade.

Barr was back in Mexico City last month, focusing his meetings on bilateral efforts to fight criminal organizations, as well as drug and arms trafficking.

Mexico appeared to speed up extraditions soon after Barr's December visit. In the last two weeks of 2019, eight suspects were sent to face charges, followed by 30 more during the first eight weeks of 2020, according to the office of Mexico's attorney general.

U.S. officials have grown particularly concerned with the fact that much of the illegal methamphetamine consumed in the United States is manufactured in Mexico and smuggled across the border. The Drug Enforcement Administration has increased efforts to target Mexican cartels that control major drug trafficking networks and flood the U.S. with meth along with other drugs.

A Section on 02/26/2020

Print Headline: Mexico crackdown on crime increases extraditions to U.S.

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