“Gangs are increasingly conducting criminal activity across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders,” according to the “Strategic Findings” on gangs in the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, released in December 2008 by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The report’s sections on gangs and drug trafficking organizations are important reading. Together they provide more confirmation that — in the eyes of law enforcement agencies throughout North America — “street gangs” are no longer gritty neighborhood affiliations of marginalized youngsters. They have morphed into deeply rooted criminal organizations with strong ties to transnational organized crime. In the case of Latino street gangs, this means in particular the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) that control most of the wholesale drug trafficking in North America.
The Mexican DTOs have pushed aside the old Colombian cartel apparatus in the United States, which still exists but is much less important than in the Miami Vice era of the 1980s. According to the 2009 Threat Assessment, “Mexican DTOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities, and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States.” This is, of course, why the war going on in Mexico today is so important to the United States.
Law enforcement officials have a range of opinions about how integrated Latino street gangs have become with the DTOs. But virtually all informed officials agree that, at a minimum, street gangs are the primary retail outlets for drugs and serve as important auxiliaries to the core DTOs (which are themselves somewhat fluid). This is one of the themes I developed in my forthcoming book No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009). [And, yes, that was yet another shameless plug.] The DTOs love the gangs because they are already in place and know the U.S. system.
An ominous development noted in the Threat Assessment: “Gangs are also increasing their involvement in wholesale-level drug distribution.” This cannot be good. Think of “mom and pop” stores displaced by one of the big “box store” chains. As gangs move into wholesale trade, the illegal drug distribution structure becomes more integrated, more efficient, more profitable, more able to corrupt government officials, and more capable of reaching out violently anywhere on the continent to enforce rules, payback intramural offenders, and claim more territory. These results will in turn put more stresses on state and local law enforcement organizations.
Naturally, international borders are key points at which the criminal synapses connect. Here is how the Threat Assessment summarizes the gangs’ cross-border roles:
Gangs are increasingly conducting criminal activity across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Gangs smuggle drugs, firearms, and aliens across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Most gang-related criminal activity along the U.S.-Mexico border occurs in South Texas and California. Several regional- and national-level gangs operate in the Del Rio/Eagle Pass, Laredo, and Lower Rio Grande Valley areas of South Texas. Street and prison gangs such as Mexikanemi (Texas Mexican Mafia), Tri-City Bombers, Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, and Texas Syndicate transport and distribute illicit drugs throughout the South Texas area. Some of these gangs have established associate gangs or chapters in border cities in Mexico, according to law enforcement reporting. A number of gangs based in San Diego and Los Angeles also conduct cross-border smuggling operations. Street and prison gangs such as Sureños 13, 18th Street, and Mexican Mafia (La Eme) maintain significant influence over most of the local suburban and rural gangs in San Diego and Los Angeles. These gangs work very closely with Mexican DTOs located in Tijuana, Mexico, to smuggle drugs and illegal aliens into the United States.
It’s worth noting that although the United States complains about drugs pouring in, it is the “narco-state” of firearms. The Wild West U.S. civilian gun market fuels the war in Mexico and is the source of virtually all of the handguns used in crime in Canada. You’re doing a hell of a job on the rest of the world, NRA!
The Canadian case is instructive. According to the report, “Gangs pose a growing problem for law enforcement along the U.S.-Canada border, particularly the border areas in the New England and Pacific Regions.” News reports confirm this “growing problem” (as did the report of a Canadian government official at an international anti-gang conference, sponsored by the FBI and the Salvadoran National Civil Police, I attended in El Salvador two years ago as an observer). For example, the Canadian new service, Canwest, reported on May 23, 2008 about this MS-13 presence:
Admitted Salvadoran killer Jose Cardoza Quinteros, of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, was deported this week by the Canada Border Services Agency after initially being granted refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Cardoza Quinteros, who admitted when he arrived in Canada to committing four murders and throwing grenades into crowds of rivals, had argued he could face harm if sent to El Salvador. Canwest News Service has learned he was removed to the U.S., and not to his native country.
Similarly, in June of last year, the news agency AFP reported:
Toronto police dismantled the Canadian operations of a violent gang with Central American roots by arresting 17 local members, authorities said Thursday. “We are confident, with the conclusion of this investigation, that we have identified individuals who were responsible for establishing an MS-13 clique here in Toronto,” police chief William Blair told a press conference.
The Toronto police claim to have “dismantled” MS-13 reminds me of similar claims made by the Los Angeles Police Department in the late 1980s after about the same number were rounded up and deported. It didn’t happen then, and I doubt that it has happened in Canada.
God bless the cops, but this problem is not going to go away unless “Change” is made — big time — in how the U.S., Mexico, and Canada confront the DTOs and the gangs.
“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “
—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”
—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles
Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com