Not long ago I wrote a column about the ominous and increasingly violent links between illegal immigration and large-scale drug trafficking in Northern Nevada and throughout the nation. My theory was validated last Tuesday by career law enforcement officer Larry Martines, a vice president of the International Police Association and former homeland security adviser to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Illegal immigration and drug trafficking go hand-in-hand, Martines told a lunchtime strategic seminar organized by Reno political blogger Ty Cobb, Sr. According to Martines, four ultra-violent Mexican cartels " based in Tijuana, Sinaloa, Juarez and the Gulf of Mexico " are battling for control of drug trafficking routes into the U.S. Since 2006 more than 5,000 Mexicans (including women and children caught in the crossfire) have been killed in the ongoing drug violence, he added, and some of those victims have died north of the border as the bloody violence overflows into our country.
Within the past couple of months, Martines continued, drug-related assassinations took place in Phoenix, where "SWAT" team look-alikes pumped 100 bullets into a suspected drug trafficker who was an American citizen, and in Birmingham, Ala., where the five victims included four illegal immigrants associated with the Juarez Cartel. And much closer to home, a 6-year-old boy who went missing in Las Vegas last week may have been kidnapped by cartel enforcers in a multi-million-dollar drug deal gone bad.
Just last January in San Antonio, 23 Mexican Mafia leaders were charged with 22 murders, massive drug trafficking and other felonies in a federal "RICO" (conspiracy) case. "Intimidation, violence and murder are standard operating procedure for these gangsters," Texas U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton told the press. "This indictment is the first step in putting them out of business." Northern Nevada U.S. Attorney Greg Brower echoed Sutton last May as he announced the arrests of 10 Mexican nationals " most of them illegals " on charges of possessing large quantities of illicit narcotics for sale. Officers of the joint Northern Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force seized 100 grams of heroin, 500 grams of cocaine, more than five grams of meth and $100,000 cash in a series of raids in the Reno area.
"Violence is spilling over the border into the U.S.," Martines said on Tuesday. "The (Mexican) cartels have reached out to Colombian FARC guerillas and to Italian organized crime." In other words, drug trafficking has gone international. He noted that the Mexican drug trade is now a $40 billion per year business, compared to only $6 billion for Mexican tourism, that country's second-leading source of foreign exchange.
Despite the best efforts of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, his country's police and military are outgunned by the narco-terrorists, and corruption is endemic. Martines told the story of the "Zetas," an elite Mexican anti-narcotics unit first organized in the 1980s and trained by U.S. Special Forces officers. Unfortunately, the drug cartels soon recruited highly trained Zeta commandoes to serve as paid enforcers.
Corruption a Major Problem
"Mexican police and the judiciary are thoroughly corrupt," Martines asserted, recalling an incident where an honest police chief was sworn-in at 8 a.m. in Juarez, only to be gunned down at 4 p.m. the same day. If the cartels continue to corrupt Mexican police and the military, Martines fears a collapse of the central government in Mexico City, which would represent a national security threat to the U.S.
And now we have evidence of corruption on both sides of the border. Just last week the sheriff of a South Texas border county was arrested on charges alleging that he was involved in a large-scale Mexican cocaine and marijuana smuggling operation.
Martines also revealed that Mexican drug cartels are engaged in large-scale marijuana growing operations in Northern California, Nevada and elsewhere on the West Coast. A big marijuana farm was located near Hawthorne during the search for missing adventurer Steve Fossett. Moreover, the Feds have found 700 marijuana growing sites on U.S. Forest Service land in California and the 1,800-square-mile Sequoia National Forest is threatened by toxic chemicals used to grow the illicit crop. "What's going on ... is a crisis at every level," said a Forest Service spokesman.
Martines believes the problem will continue "as long as judges think drug use is a victimless crime," resulting in light sentences for drug traffickers. In my part-time work as a court interpreter, I deal with some of the unsavory people who pollute our nation with dangerous drugs. That's why I favor a harsh crackdown on illegal immigration as part of any "comprehensive immigration reform" package " a subject neither of the presidential candidates is addressing, by the way.
Of course our insatiable demand for drugs is the main reason why illicit narcotics continue to flow into the U.S. from Mexico and Latin America. Martines and I agree that legalization isn't the answer to the demand problem because that would only make the problem worse. But as long as Hollywood and the media continue to glamorize drug use, the demand for drugs will remain high. So the solution begins at home and not in Mexico City or anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, was a foot soldier in the War On Drugs during his 28-year U.S. Foreign Service career.