Newly released Justice Department emails sent to Capitol Hill for a congressional inquiry into a gun-smuggling operation indicate that the head of the department’s criminal division suggested letting some illicit “straw” weapons buyers in the U.S. transport their guns across the border into Mexico where they could be arrested.

According to the emails turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Friday night, the Justice official, Lanny Breuer, made the suggestion to Mexican officials because it “may send a strong message to arms traffickers.”

Mexico has stringent gun control laws with long prison terms as opposed to the U.S., where small-time “straw” buyers working for major arms traffickers seldom face jail time.

Breuer made the remarks in February 2011, around the time that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were telling congressional investigators that the ATF had allowed hundreds of illicitly purchased guns in the operation known as Fast and Furious flow into Mexico — a controversial tactic known as “gun-walking” aimed at following gun buyers to major traffickers.

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