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

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Federal Border Security Efforts Conclusion

Increasing Coordination Between Mexican Drug Cartels, Human Smuggling Networks, and U.S.-Based Gangs

 

Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials are witnessing a growing nexus between the Mexican drug cartels, illegal alien smuggling rings, and U.S. based gangs.The human smuggling networks that operate along the Southwest border cannot move their human cargo through drug cartel controlled corridors without paying a fee. The typical Mexican illegal alien now pays approximately $1,200 to $2,500. For aliens from countries other than Mexico this price is often considerably higher, and may even be more alluring for the cartels. Foreign nationals are often charged an exorbitantly higher fee ranging anywhere from $45,000 to $60,000 per person. Indeed, it is estimated that human smuggling through Mexico into the United States each year puts billions of dollars into criminal hands.

 

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According to U.S. law enforcement officials, tremendous incentive exists for drug cartels to diversify their criminal enterprises to include the human smuggling trade. Human smuggling can be more lucrative than the illicit drug trade and the benefits far outweigh the risks for the cartels. There are many reasons for this. Law enforcement is dealing with a different type of commodity – drugs don’t hide themselves as humans are able. Consequently, smugglers can transport large numbers of illegal aliens across the border at one time and meet with some success.

 

Moreover, prosecutions for human smuggling are abysmally low. Typically, groups of illegal aliens apprehended attempting to cross the border will not identify the smuggler in the group. For those smugglers that are identified and captured, most are simply returned to their country of origin. Thus, there is a revolving door for the smugglers. Since it is unlikely the smuggler will be prosecuted he or she can opt for voluntary removal, face no criminal penalties and smuggle again. As human smugglers charge anywhere from $2,000 to $60,000 per alien and face little or no consequences if caught, human smuggling is a far less risky business endeavor than the drug trade.

 

Federal law enforcement officials also report that the cartels are not only increasingly
engaged in the human smuggling business, they are also actively coordinating with existing human smuggling rings, using diversionary tactics to protect their loads. It is not uncommon for cartels to facilitate the crossing of fifty or more illegal aliens across the U.S.-Mexico border to divert Border Patrol resources away from an area they plan to transport large amounts of drugs across.

 

Mexican drug cartels have also increasingly “cemented” ties to street and prison gangs on the U.S. side. U.S. gangs retail drugs purchased from Mexican traffickers and often work as cartel surrogates and enforcers on U.S. soil. Mara Salvatrucha, (MS-13) is one such gang involved in the cross-border drug smuggling business. MS-13 has established a growing presence in cities across the United States. Law enforcement agencies in twenty-eight States have reported MS-13 members are engaged in retail drug trafficking. Drug proceeds are subsequently laundered through seemingly legitimate local 44 businesses.

On September 28, 2006, in Laredo, Texas, twelve gang members were indicted in Laredo, Texas on seventeen counts of illegal drug and firearm offenses. Charges against the defendants include engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to posses with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of cocaine, felons in possession of weapons and possession of weapons during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.

All twelve defendants are believed to be members of or associated with the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos (Brotherhood of Latin Gunmen) prison gang and working for the Gulf Cartel. Federal and State officials report that a growing number of gangs are increasingly collaborating with the major drug cartels to facilitate cross-border smuggling of not only drugs, but also humans.

These gangs include MS-13, Mexican Mafia, and the Texas Syndicate. In August 2006, Mexico’s Deputy Attorney General for Organized Crime, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, postulated these gangs are becoming increasingly more powerful as they fill the void left by the cartels when their leadership is arrested by the Mexican government.

In February 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller described U.S. based-gangs as “more  organized, more violent, and more widespread than ever.” The Department of Justice estimates there are approximately 30,000 gangs with more than 800,000 members in the  U.S. Mueller believes these violent gangs pose a growing threat to the safety and security of Americans.

 

Many members of violent street gangs are actively involved in other crimes such as rape, robbery, and murder. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has found that approximately half of the apprehended gang members have violent criminal histories, with arrests and convictions for crimes such as robbery, assault, rape and murder. This figure includes only those whose criminal histories are known. Approximately 90 percent of U.S. MS-13 members are foreign-born illegal aliens and depend upon the Texas-Mexico border smuggling corridor to support their criminal operations. MS-13 members are involved in a variety of other types of criminal activity, including rape, 52 murder, and extortion.

 

The foreign nationals who belong to these gangs often ignore Federal immigration laws, regularly entering the United States illegally. They then travel to the nation’s interior cities to join with other gang members and participate in criminal activity. A Federal investigator told Committee staff of a recent interview he conducted with an MS-13 member who described the ease with which he had routinely traversed the Southwest border. The gang member decided to return to his native country of Guatemala to spend Christmas with his mother. To save his own money, he voluntarily turned himself into authorities and was flown home at U.S. Government expense under the expedited removal program, spent the holidays with his family, and returned by illegally crossing the Southwest border. The gang member boasted this process is so easy he has repeated it several times.

The Zetas are also one of the main groups smuggling illegal aliens and drugs into the United States from Mexico. A recent FBI bulletin noted that “FBI intelligence indicates that Los Zetas are becoming increasingly involved in systematic corruption as well as alien smuggling, including smuggling special interest aliens into the United States.” The Zetas wield their control over the movement of people across the border through an elaborate network of spies, checkpoints and use of sophisticated technology. Some of those networks are deepening their ties to Texas cities, including Houston and Dallas, with the help of gang members.

In 2005, law enforcement linked at least three drug related killings in the Dallas area to the Zetas. Texas law enforcement authorities believe a squad of Zeta members, as many as ten, might be operating inside Texas as assassins for the Gulf Cartel. Authorities said Zetas are the cartel is protecting nearly $10 million in daily drug transactions in Texas. also known to have established smuggling routes in residential neighborhoods on the U.S. 57 side of the border that are used to smuggle “high-value” illegal aliens.

 

 

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