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


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 Conclusion

Executive Summary


US Mexico Border in New MexicoThe Texas-Mexico border region has been experiencing an alarming rise in the level of criminal cartel activity, including drug and human smuggling, which has placed significant additional burdens on Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies. This interim report will  examine the roots of the criminal enterprise and its effects on the local populations, what steps are being taken or should be taken to counter the threat, and the significance of these issues for the overall homeland security of the United States.

The United States border with Mexico extends nearly 2,000 miles along the southern borders of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In most areas, the border is located in remote and sparsely populated areas of vast desert and rugged mountain terrain.


The border’s vast length and varied terrain poses significant challenges to U.S. law enforcement efforts to control the entry of individuals and goods into the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the federal agency with primary responsibility to detect and prevent illegal entry into the United States. As of the date of this report,approximately 11,000 CBP agents patrol the nearly 6,000 miles of international border the United States shares with its neighbors Mexico and Canada.

US Mexico Border in ArizonaIn addition to Federal agents, State and local law enforcement also patrol the border areas. In remote areas along the border, many sheriffs’ departments are called upon to address border-related criminal matters and serve as a backstop to CBP operations. In many cases, these local law enforcement agencies do not have the resources necessary to patrol the thousands of square miles of border territory under their respective jurisdiction, leaving the security of the border vulnerable.


While the Southwest border hosts robust legal commercial activity, the border also is the site of violent criminal enterprises. These enterprises are carried out by organized criminal syndicates and include the smuggling of drugs, humans, weapons, and cash across the U.S.-Mexico border.

During 2005, Border Patrol apprehended approximately 1.2 million illegal aliens; of those 165,000 were from countries other than Mexico. Of the non-Mexican aliens, approximately 650 were from special interest countries. Special interest countries are those “designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism.”

Illegal Aliens on Train Bound for USFederal law enforcement estimates that 10 percent to 30 percent of illegal aliens are actually apprehended and 10 percent to 20 percent of drugs are seized. Therefore, in 2005, as many as 4 to 10 million illegal aliens crossed into the United States; and as much as 5.6 to 11.2 million pounds of cocaine and 34.3 to 68.6 million pounds of marijuana entered the United States.

The triple threat of drug smuggling, illegal and unknown crossers, and rising violence are the reality facing communities. While many illegal aliens cross the border searching for employment, not all illegal aliens are crossing into the United States to find work. Law
enforcement has stated that some individuals come across the border because they have been forced to leave their home countries due to their criminal activity. These dangerous criminals are fleeing the law in other countries and seeking refuge in the United States.
Along the border with Mexico, there are 43 Ports of Entry, 18 in Texas, connecting with major U.S. interstate highways. These Ports or Entry and highway systems are intended to facilitate lawful trade and commerce. However, the Mexican drug cartels have been able to use these highways for their own ends, seeing in them an efficient means to transport their drugs and illegal aliens across the border.


Mexican Border SnipersMexican drug cartels operating along the Southwest border are more sophisticated and dangerous than any other organized criminal enterprise. The Mexican cartels, and the smuggling rings and gangs they leverage, wield substantial control over the routes into the United States and pose substantial challenges to U.S. law enforcement to secure the Southwest border.


The cartels operate along the border with military grade weapons, technology and intelligence and their own respective paramilitary enforcers. In addition, human smugglers coordinate with the drug cartels, paying a fee to use the cartels’ safe smuggling routes into the Unites States. There are also indications the cartels may be moving to diversify their criminal enterprises to include the increasingly  lucrative human smuggling trade.


Moreover, U.S. law enforcement has established that there is increasing coordination between Mexican drug cartels, human smuggling networks and U.S.-based gangs. The cartels use street and prison gangs located in the United States as their distribution
networks. In the United States, the gang members operate as surrogates and enforcers for the cartels.

US Bound Train Filled with Illegal AliensMurders and kidnappings on the both sides of the border have significantly increased in recent years. The violence along the U.S.-Mexican border has increased so dramatically, the United States Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, during the last year, has issued an unprecedented number of diplomatic notes to the Mexican Government and threat advisories to U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico. During August 2005, the Ambassador closed the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo for one week in order to assess security.


This new generation of sophisticated and violent cartels, along the Southwest border, is presenting significant challenges to U.S. law enforcement. These criminal syndicates have unlimited money to buy the most advanced weapons and technology available. The cartels monitor the movements and communications of law enforcement and use that intelligence to enable the criminals to transport their cargo accordingly.

In addition to the criminal activities and violence of the cartels on our Southwest border, there is an ever-present threat of terrorist infiltration over the Southwest border. Data indicates that there are hundreds of illegal aliens apprehended entering the United States each year who are from countries known to support and sponsor terrorism.

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations have revealed that aliens were smuggled from the Middle East to staging areas in Central and South America, before being smuggled illegally into the United States.

  • Members of Hezbollah have already entered the United States across the Southwest border.

  • U.S. military and intelligence officials believe that Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere. The Venezuelan government is issuing identity documents that could subsequently be used to obtain a U.S. visa and enter the country.

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