The border between El Paso (population: 600,000) and Juárez (population: 1.5 million) is the most menacing spot along America's southern underbelly.
On one side is the second-safest city of its size in the United States (after Honolulu), with only 15 murders so far in 2008. On the other is a slaughterhouse ruled by drug lords where the death toll this year is more than 1,300 and counting.
"I don't think the average American has any idea of what's going on immediately south of our border," says Kevin Kozak, acting special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in El Paso. "It's almost beyond belief."
Juárez looks a lot like a failed state, with no government entity capable of imposing order and a profusion of powerful organizations that kill and plunder at will. It's as if the United States faced another lawless Waziristan—except this one happens to be right at the nation's doorstep.