Mexico’s drug cartels are increasingly recruiting more members from the other side of the Rio Grande because it is easier for American citizens to cross the border.
Arrest records from Ciudad Juarez, located across the border from El Paso, Texas, back up this theory, said University of Texas at El Paso researcher and political scientist Antonio Payan.
So far this year, according to the records, 10 El Paso residents have been detained in Mexico’s murder capital on drug-related charges, equaling the number arrested in all of 2009.
Four suspects from the Texas border city have been arrested in Juarez this week alone.
“Among the transnational criminal organizations there is a clear intent to recruit binational (Mexican-American) citizens or Americans because it is so easy for them to move around. It is easier to come and go,” Payan said.
The new recruits are used to smuggle arms and drugs, and to steal vehicles, carry out kidnappings and commit other violent crimes.
This was the case in several recent arrests of U.S. citizens made in Ciudad Juarez.
A 16-year-old girl arrested during a police operation on Nov. 16 in Juarez was charged with participating directly in at least one of the six kidnappings carried out by Mexico’s El Cabezon gang.
Ricky Painter and his girlfriend were arrested three days later while driving an automobile that had been reported stolen in El Paso, while 28-year-old Vicky Veronica Calderon was arrested barely 24 hours later along with a group of gunmen from the Los Aztecas gang.
There is the mistaken belief in Juarez and El Paso that Americans are not involved in organized crime, but “all you have to do is look at the files from the federal courts to see that it is just the opposite,” Payan said.
Several cases, in fact, of this type of recruitment have occurred in other border cities, while it is a relatively recent phenomenon in Ciudad Juarez.
David Barron, an American hitman hired by the Arellano Felix family’s Tijuana cartel, died in the failed attempt to kill Mexican journalist Jesus Blancornelas in 1997, the U.S. press reported.
Rosalio Reta, a resident of Laredo, Texas, and his friend, Gabriel Cardona, were hired by the Los Zetas cartel to smuggle drugs into the United States.
The most recent case was that of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a Texas-born drug trafficker known as “La Barbie” because of his fair skin and blond hair, who was arrested near Mexico City in August.
Valdez Villarreal, a former high school football star in his native Laredo, had taken control of a faction of the powerful Beltran Leyva drug cartel.
U.S. law enforcement agencies have information about U.S. citizens and residents employed by Mexico’s drug cartels, but since the majority of these individuals have not committed crimes in the United States they cannot take action against them, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, source in El Paso told Efe on condition of anonymity.
The United States, however, cannot remain blind to what is going on because it has “a high level of responsibility” in the war on transborder organized crime, Payan said.
Greater police and intelligence cooperation is needed at the local level between the neighboring countries, the professor said.
“It already exists at the national level, but there is practically no communication between the Juarez Municipal Police Department and the El Paso Police Department,” Payan said.