Special Report

Cartel Assassins

Lack of border enforcement has made the drug gangs so bold that they are no longer content to keep a low profile on American soil.

By 8.17.05

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EL PASO -- When the Drug Enforcement Administration announced in July that Mexico has overtaken Colombia as the number one importer of illegal drugs into the U.S., it exposed another, sometimes discounted threat posed by a lax immigration policy. Certain areas of our country are becoming awash in drugs at levels that surpass even the cocaine heydays of the eighties. Only this time around, the traffickers are not distant cartels who try to avoid the attention of U.S. law enforcement but brutal neighbors who respect neither American citizenship nor American badges. And they are literally knocking down our doors.

Most of those groups lobbying for tougher immigration enforcement bolster their position by arguing that it is not simply drug smuggling that concerns them but terrorist smuggling as well. And while that is, and must be, the Bush administration's primary concern, such reasoning implies that stopping violent cartels along the border is not reason enough to enforce our immigration laws. But anyone paying attention to the activities of Mexican drug gangs knows that even without the specter of terrorism, traffickers pose a serious enough threat to American safety to warrant a border crackdown.

According to DEA officials, Mexican drug cartels now control 11 of the 13 largest drug markets in the country and wield more influence over our illicit drug trade than any other group. DEA reports show that in 2004, 92 percent of the cocaine in the U.S. came through the U.S.-Mexican border, up 15 percent from 2003. They also show that methamphetamine seizure at the border is up 74% since 2001.

These numbers demonstrate the futility of any drug policy that doesn't take into account America's porous border problem. Any laws that Congress or the states enact to curb local production of meth, such as busting up meth labs and moving ephedrine-containing cold medicines behind the counter, is undermined by the burgeoning business of Mexico's super labs. Restricting access to meth-making chemicals on our side of the Rio Grande has simply resulted in U.S. cities flooded with Mexican-made meth -- which is stronger, cheaper, and more addictive than its American counterpart.

BUT EVEN MORE DISTURBING than the Mexican traffickers' ability to get their product into the states is the disregard they increasingly hold for U.S. citizens. Lack of enforcement has made the drug gangs so bold that they are no longer content to keep a low profile on American soil. Whereas American citizens were somewhat sacrosanct to South American drug cartels in the past, today nearly anything goes. As an anonymous Dallas narcotics officer told the Associated Press in February, "We're seeing an alarming number of incidents involving the same type of violence that's become all too common in Mexico, right here in Dallas. We're seeing execution-style murders, burned bodies and outright mayhem....It's like the battles being waged in Mexico for turf have reached Dallas." Or, to put it as plainly as the 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report did, "The violence of warring Mexican cartels has spilled over the border."

The fear that much of this mayhem is being carried out by ex-military renegades known as Zetas has Texas law enforcement especially concerned. A onetime elite force in the Mexican military known as Special Air Mobile Force, the Zetas were sent to the border to combat drug trafficking and instead became cartel assassins. American federal agents report that the Zetas are currently taking up residence in cities across the southwest, camouflaged by growing illegal immigrant communities.

Even in areas as metropolitan as Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix, the Zetas are unafraid to take out anyone who gets in their way, including American officers. On August 1, the Washington Times reported that in an effort to protect their cargo, the former soldiers are offering $50,000 to anyone who kills a U.S. law enforcement officer. That same story revealed that in less than a year, there have been 192 attacks against border patrol agents in the Tucson sector alone.

And in states as far away from our southwestern boundary as Virginia, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13), a drug gang tied to al Qaeda and made up almost solely of illegal immigrants from South America and Mexico, terrorize residents by gang raping the handicapped and attacking innocent motorists with machetes.

Besides widespread violence, the other problem plaguing our border security is corruption. Corruption among Mexican officials is so pervasive as to have become a joke. In the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, so many police officers were on cartel payrolls, it prompted President Vicente Fox to suspend the entire 720-man force. Now there is evidence that our reticence to block illegal routes into the country is leading to increased corruption on our side of the border.

More than 55 government employees, including military personnel, have been indicted or pled guilty in southern Arizona on charges of drug and/or people smuggling in the past year (usually this means they just looked the other way as cartels brought their shipments through). And at least six federal agents on the Texas border have either been convicted or charged for taking bribes from drug dealers in the past few months.

FINALLY, IF CONGRESS AND THE President will not enforce immigration laws for the good of Americans, perhaps they will enforce them for the good of Mexicans.

Nuevo Laredo, like dozens of other Mexican cities close to the U.S., is a daily scene of murder, rape, fear, and intimidation. So far this year drug gangs based in that city have executed more than 100 people, including a new chief of police who was gunned down a mere six hours after he was sworn in. Rampant killings and kidnappings fill the front pages of Nuevo Laredo's newspapers -- at least they did until cartel assassins got to the journalists too. And the American tourism that fueled their economy? It dried up after the U.S. State Department was forced to issue travel advisories to anyone thinking of visiting south of the border.

Fed up, many honest Mexicans living in towns like Nuevo Laredo, Juarez, and Nogales place the blame on the U.S., arguing that our inability to enforce our border directly fuels the violence they must endure. They point out that only a fraction of the trucks crossing the International Bridges that link our Southwestern cities to Mexico are ever searched by officials. As Jack Soneson, vice president of Nuevo Laredo's chamber of commerce, told the Hamilton Spectator, "The drug cartels are here for a reason, which is that it's easy to get these drugs across."

Demanding that those who enter the U.S. do so legally is not about keeping innocent, hardworking immigrants from getting in; it's about keeping foreign drug traffickers, and all the butchery that attends them, out. Any amnesty policy for illegals as a whole is likely to be exploited by Mexican cartels and used to bolster their stranglehold on our southern border. To give these groups an even greater foothold through a lenient illegal immigration policy is to invite the kind of carnage already taking place in cities like Laredo, El Paso, Dallas, and Houston deeper into the U.S.

Terror may be the most pressing threat our government must consider in regards to immigration, but it is by no means the only one.

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