Influence of Mexican Drug Cartels
Violent Border Battles
Criminal Nexus at the Border
Smuggler's Disregard for Lives
Attacks on U.S. Officers
Smuggler's Technology & Arms
Attacks on U.S. Citizens
Terrorist Infiltration
Texas Border Security Initiatives
Federal Border Security Efforts


News for Public Officials

A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border



The Emerging Influence and Power of Mexican Drug Cartels


Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal gangs have emerged in recent years as the most influential drug traffickers in the United States. Though Mexico’s cartels have existed for some time, they have become increasingly powerful with the demise of the Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia and have now come to dominate the U.S. illicit drug market.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican cartels are “the predominant smugglers, transporters, and wholesale distributors of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and Mexico-produced heroin in the United States” and “are expanding their control over the distribution of these drugs in areas long controlled by Colombian and Dominican criminal groups, including areas of New York and Florida.”

In addition to drug trafficking, cartels have been tied to both human and arms smuggling, and U.S. intelligence officials report they expect to see human smuggling become another. This fact is of particular import in a post 9/11 component of the drug cartels’ business. environment and at a time in history when the United States is more concerned than ever about securing its borders.


Mexican cartels are also increasing their relationships with prison and street gangs in the United States to facilitate trafficking drugs within the United States. For example, gangs including the Latin Kings and Mara Salvatrucha buy methamphetamine from Mexican drug cartels for distribution in the southwestern United States.


The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the Mexican drug syndicates operating today along our Nation’s Southwest border are far more sophisticated and dangerous than any of the other organized criminal groups in America’s law enforcement history. Indeed, these powerful drug cartels, and the human smuggling networks and gangs they leverage, have immense control over the routes into the United States and continue to pose formidable challenges to our efforts to secure the Southwest border.

B. Smuggling Routes Along the Texas-Mexico Border

Along the Texas-Mexico border, drug cartels and organized criminal groups have established a robust presence in key strategic areas. The Texas-Mexico border is particularly attractive to these criminal networks as it spans approximately 1200 miles,
includes 18 Ports of Entry, and has major interstate highways in Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, and El Paso, thereby providing the organized crime groups with access to the rest of the Nation.

The South Texas region covers approximately 625 miles of border territory – a total area of 20,963 square miles and borders three separate Mexican States. Inside the territory are 11 Ports of Entry that include 15 international bridges. Directly across the cities of Brownsville, McAllen, and Laredo are major Mexican cities, each with a population between 600,000 and 800,000.


McAllen and Brownsville host interstate highways and thoroughfares, providing drug traffickers and human smugglers with ready access to the Nation’s interior. Trains, usually 90 to 160 cars in length, traveling from Central America through Mexico to  Brownsville, McAllen, and Laredo, are one mode of transportation illegal aliens use to enter the United States.Each year thousands of illegal aliens cling to the sides and tops of the rail cars for the journey to the north.


The El Paso-Juarez corridor in west Texas also serves as the gateway for drugs destined to major metropolitan areas in the United States. Mexican drug cartels transport significant quantities of marijuana and cocaine through the El Paso Port of Entry using major east/west and north/south interstate highways. These highways provide the Mexican cartels with transportation routes for drug distribution throughout the United States. Drug cartels also obtain warehouses in El Paso for stash locations and recruit drivers from the local area to transport the drugs to various destinations throughout the United States.

The Alpine area is largely rural and sparsely populated, encompassing the Big Bend corridor, a transshipment route for drugs entering the United States from Northeast Mexico. The drug cartels maintain command and control elements to the north in the Midland-Odessa area and in the border towns to the south in Presidio and Redford.


The Laredo Port of Entry is the busiest and most heavily traversed land Port of Entry on the Southwest border, handling approximately 6,000 commercial vehicles a day. Forty percent of all Mexican exports cross into Laredo, Texas, where Interstate 35 connects directly to Dallas, and from there throughout the United States. U.S. Border Patrol Chief John Montoya describes this Port of Entry as “the key ingress into the United States.”
“It’s called a gateway city, not only into Mexico but into the United States as well.” The very conditions that make the Laredo Port of Entry so attractive to legitimate commerce also make the city ideal for the illicit drug and human smuggling trade.