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Cartels Recruiting Inmates in El Paso, Texas, Prison to Come Join Their Warfare on the Streets of Ciudad Juárez

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West Texas Most Wanted Gang Fugitives
Mexican drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, continue to recruit El Paso, Texas, gang members to distribute their drugs, smuggle guns from the US to Mexico, and – upon their release from prison – come join their warfare on the streets of Ciudad Juarez.

This type of recruitment has been “always ongoing and continous”, and often takes place within state and federal correction facilities, says Paul Davis, supervisory special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Office in El Paso.

“When (gang members) are in prison, they like to recruit them and if they know they’re going to be deported, they make them punch in once they get deported. They know which spot, which bus station they’re going to be at, and they expect them to be active participants” right away, Davis said.

Criminal groups in Mexico depend on American gang members for straw purchases of guns and ammunition, which are extremely difficult to obtain legally in Mexico.

At the border there is a different criminal dynamic since many gang members from El Paso have dual Mexican and US citizenship or have business and family ties on both sides of the border.

Gangsters who only have Mexican citizenship are generally deported, but the contacts they made with US prison gangs while they were behind bars are valuable for Mexican cartels. Those who have US or dual citizenship can cross the international border at will, making them perfect “cross-border assassins”.

These murderers are common at the El Paso-Juarez border area and have been active there since the 1980s. Los Azteca, a gang that was born in the jails of El Paso, is known to supply gang members to gangs in Ciudad Juarez. Many of the murders committed in Ciudad Juarez during its violent heyday were believed to have been committed by US-based gang members.

“These gang members killed in Ciudad Juarez during the day and slept quietly in El Paso at night”, a source with direct knowledge of cartel activity in the area told Borderland Beat.

“When Ciudad Juarez was one of the deadliest cities in the world in the early 2010s, many of the murders commited in the city were done by gang members from El Paso. The sitution is no different today.”

2021 map of the gangs in Ciudad Juarez. Violence is driven by gangs competing over street corners to sell heroin, cocaine, and meth.

Violence in Ciudad Juarez
As reported by Borderland Beat, much of the violence in Ciudad Juarez is dictated by competition for street-level drug sale spots, known in Mexico as puntos.

Homicides in the city are concentrated in neighborhoods located in the west and south-east areas. Crimes such as drug dealing (narcomenudeo) converge in these residential areas.

Gangs like Los Aztecas, La Empresa, and La Linea (linked to the old Juarez Cartel) operate in western Ciudad Juarez. Rival groups like Gente Nueva (linked to the Sinaloa Cartel), Artistas Asesinos, and Los Mexicles operate in the southeastern side. Other Sinaloa Cartel-affiliated groups like Los Salazar and Los Jaguares do not have presence in Ciudad Juarez.

These criminal groups mostly operate by proxy. They hire neighborhood gangs to do the dirty work, whether it be smuggling drugs into the U.S., selling them in puntos, or murdering drug dealers. These street dealers are in some cases also the triggermen.

Gangs in El Paso, Texas
There are also gangs in El Paso (estimates range around 100), but the city has been exempted from the violence that plagues its sister city.

Officials say that is in part due to the extensive law enforcement and intelligence sharing and cooperation between federal, state, and local police agencies. Davis says that El Paso and US-based gangs are generally reluctant to draw attention to themselves to avoid harsh penalties under American law.

“Juarez is our sister city. […] Along with all the strengths, business and economic, that come with a large population across the border, we do have some of those gangs straddling the border,” Davis said. “Some of the larger Hispanic gangs will have leadership on that side where it’s not easy to dismantle or disrupt their organizations.”

The FBI declined to say the names of the El Paso-based gangs, saying the groups thrive on publicity and use it as a recruiting tool. But Davis said that US authorities are conducting long-term investigations and are ready to apply tools like the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and illegal possession of firearm laws to gang members when appropriate.

Several law enforcement agencies participate in the West Texas Anti-Gang Center 

“When we do bring RICO cases, it has a chilling effect on those who want to take leadership roles in gangs,” Davis said. “People often don’t want to be the leader of a gang or don’t want to make it well-known that they are because (of fear of) a RICO case.”

The FBI in El Paso works together with other law enforcement agencies through the West Texas Anti-Gang Center. Their goal is to identify the most voilent and active gangs in the area, and to capture their leaders. There is a website that highlights tip lines and features their fugitive leaders.

“El Paso is very unique in our gang activity. It’s different than Chicago and New York because being along the border presents an opportunity for every gang member to have direct connections to drug suppliers (in Mexico),” Davis said. “We don’t see a very hierarchical structured leadership. […] It’s pretty much who has a supplier of drugs and who can distribute it on the street.”

Gangs in El Paso are also not very territorial.

“We have some hybrid gangs […] Their structure isn’t so hard and firm. When someone has a good price on, let’s say cocaine or meth or other drugs and he says, ‘hey, let’s get together.’ They are opportunistic if they can flip an ounce or a kilo of drugs as a result,” he said.

Davis said that these gangs have not taken advantage of the surge in migrants to hire new recruits. He said it is because these migrants do not intend to stay in the area to begin with.

But some gang members from elsewhere drop by, the FBI does intervene. “We do get out, we do interview and want to know what they’re doing, why they’re coming through and we do go out and make it known that we’re paying attention,” he said.
Sources: Border ReporterStop West Texas Gangs; NYT; Anonymous source; Borderland Beat archives


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  • Katherine

    Your reports are super informative.

    Please don’t stop.

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