In August, nine bodies were reportedly hung from a bridge in Michoacan, Mexico with ten more mutilated nearby, accompanying a sign with written warnings to rival cartels in the area.
As cartel turf wars ramp up and inch closer to the U.S.-Mexico border, however, Mexico is no longer the only country affected by the violence.
Just last month, Border Patrol agents reported more than fifty shots fired at patrol boat from the Mexican side of the border as they patrolled the Rio Grande near Fronton, Texas.
As the violence intensifies, The Texan spoke with Jaeson Jones, a retired captain with the Texas Department of Public Safety – Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, to better understand the implications of these cartel turf war not only for Mexico but for Texas as well.
According to Jones, though many similarities exist between gangs and cartels, it is important to understand what it is that cartels seek to achieve.
Unlike gangs, which primarily seek to assert their control over a territory or region, cartels seek to control not only territory but everything within a given area, including property, people, and even elected officials.
In many instances, cartels are so intertwined with upper-echelons of power, the difficulty for law enforcement is knowing where government ends and where the cartel officially begins.
While it is common to classify these highly sophisticated groups as drug trafficking organizations, in reality, drug trafficking is just one aspect of the many operations they conduct, as any product that can be used to enhance their wealth and power is seen as a commodity.
While drugs are one common product trafficked by cartels into the U.S., more concerning is the increased trafficking of humans.
Since the institution of the Flores Settlement Agreement in 1997 and its expansion in 2015, there has been a substantial uptake in the number of individuals seeking entry at the U.S. southern border – a point which cartels have been quick to capitalize on.
Historically, cartels have been known to tax migrants who pass through their territories while en route to the U.S.
However, when masses of individuals began to arrive following the expansion of the Flores Settlement Agreement in 2015 and former President Obama’s DACA/DAPA executive edicts, cartels found themselves without enough resources, like stash houses, to hold people unable to pay.
Because of this, cartels began utilizing debt bondage – a classified form of human trafficking – at a level not previously seen as a means of collecting payments through credit paid back over time despite their lack of adequate resources.
According to Jones, this creates a new national security threat to the United States and Texas in particular, as individuals arrive seeking asylum at the U.S. border, while still “indebted to a criminal organization in a foreign country.”
“We’re going to see servitude at a level our country has never dealt with,” Jones added, as many of those indebted to the cartels work for them once inside the U.S.
Additionally, many Tier 1 gangs in Texas, such as MS-13, Tango Blast, the Texas Mexican Mafia, and Barrio Azteca, are contracted to work for Mexican cartels in various capacities.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Texas Gang Threat Assessment in 2018, cartels often rely on Tier 1 gangs for money and weapons movement, contract hits, surveillance, and various other forms of smuggling and transnational criminal activity.
While (CBP) reported apprehending 933 gang members, including 445 from MS-13, between ports of entry from the beginning of the fiscal year through the end of August, DPS predicts cartel networks and activity will likely expand into Texas.
“Texas-based gangs will very likely continue to play an essential role in supporting cartel operations on both sides of the border. The cartels will likely seek to expand their existing networks in Texas by leveraging their relationships with gangs.”
The statement continues by saying, “We expect the relationships between individual gangs and cartels to remain fluid, and possibly adapt and evolve in response to the changing cartel landscape in Mexico.”
As cartel turf wars in Mexico intensify, the consequences are unlikely to be confined solely to our troubled southern neighbor.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.