Immigration

Drug Cartels Aren’t Just a Border Problem

Border Patrol agents and a special operations group member from the Texas Ranger Division seize 297 pounds of marijuana following a drug bust on the Mexico-U.S. border near McAllen, Texas, April 5, 2018. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)
These dangerous organizations are making further inroads in the nation. It’s time to act.

As you watch the dangerous disaster unfold at our southern border, know this: Those cartels operating on the border are also now conducting their horrific business far from there, in hometowns across America.

Just a few weeks ago, 180 miles from the border, in the quiet San Antonio suburban town of Boerne, Texas, a vehicle carrying nine people — two stuffed in the trunk — was stopped for a traffic violation. All of the occupants told the exact same story — a common reality of cartel-driven smuggling and trafficking. They stated they were stranded on the side of the road and hitchhiking. The driver and his girlfriend were “kind enough” to pick them up. In reality, the driver was ordered to pick them up.

The driver was smuggling these illegal immigrants from Mexico and Honduras after crossing through the Del Rio sector — territory of the Cartel del Noreste, a faction of Los Zetas. Among the passengers was a young teenage boy who had paid $4,000 to be transported to California to pick grapes for $13 an hour. However, the cartel had different plans. The boy learned they were actually headed to a stash house in Houston — where those who did not pay the full amount would have been held until the balance was paid, or they would be sold into trafficking.

More recently, a female cartel victim was in the process of being trafficked when she was encountered by law enforcement in Kendall County, Texas, which contains Boerne. She knew that she was going to have to work for a while to pay her debt to the cartel that smuggled her, but she did not know what that work would be. Had she not been picked up by law enforcement, one can only imagine the horror she would have experienced at the hands of these monsters.

Kendall County, Texas, has experienced at least five cases of cartel smuggling in recent months. Another case from April involved a 17-year-old trafficking two young females and a teenage boy. Seventeen-year-olds are recruited because they are treated as minors under federal law — making prosecutions harder against the cartels.

The Cartel del Noreste charges roughly $12,000 for transport for someone from Mexico or Central America for entry to the United States through the Texas–Mexico border. If an individual is coming from the Middle East or Asia, it can be many times that amount. In March, Kendall County law enforcement stopped a vehicle where several passengers fled, leading to a pursuit. Occupants had only partially paid the cartels and were on their way to San Antonio, where their family would pay the remaining balance — totaling $11,000.

The volume of the cartels’ trafficking operations should scare every American. In Kendall County, for example, cartel teams run at least three shifts — varying the times to avoid detection and transporting individuals per day. There are likely dozens, if not more, carloads moving through daily. Sources from inside DHS have also indicated some 26,000 illegal aliens got away with crossing the border last month in the Del Rio sector alone.

These violent criminal organizations are notorious for committing brutal killings, and for threatening Mexican police and politicians to gain and maintain their power and their profits. This is clear in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which is now effectively run by cartel influence and will not cooperate with American immigration enforcement as a result.

Now, an unprecedented surge of people entering illegally through the Texas–Mexico border, a direct result of this administration’s reckless policies, is enabling the further spread of cartel practices into America. And our law enforcement can only do so much to stop it.

If a situation involving a cartel is intercepted and local law enforcement reaches out to ICE or DHS, local law enforcement is simply told to get as much information as possible and then to let everyone go. If DHS does opt to take up the case, and defines the case as smuggling, then the authorities are no longer allowed to detain their material witnesses and must get a full confession from those involved — which can be excruciatingly challenging when witnesses are victims at the hands of the cartels.

As a current and former prosecutor, we can tell you that it gets harder every day to prosecute these cases, to get justice for victims of cartels, and to hold these criminals accountable. The massive flow of illegal migrants weakens the inability for border patrol to secure the border. And with interior enforcement overrun, cartels are proving they are in control of this crisis. They are profiting handsomely as a result. Now moving their operations further into our interior and into our communities, the cartels are profiting $10–14 million per day trafficking human beings and narcotics through our neighborhoods.

This is no longer just a border problem; it’s a problem for the whole country. There are dangerous people doing horrible things to human beings for profit further and further away from our border and closer and closer to where most of us live. Cartel smugglers are becoming increasingly armed and increasingly emboldened as they expand their operations on U.S. soil. The children, women, and young men they prey on are human beings, but are being treated as political pawns by both the president and his allies in Congress, all to the empowerment of the criminals who endanger the lives of Americans and immigrants alike. Chaos isn’t compassion. It is time for the chaos to end.

Nicole Bishop is the criminal district attorney for Kendall County, Texas. Chip Roy represents the 21st district of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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