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Politicians, law enforcement clash over violence spillover from Mexico

A recent shooting that wounded an Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputy and killed a gunman allegedly working for the Gulf Cartel has reignited the debate on spillover violence from Mexico’s drug war.

While Mexico continues a bloody battle against cartels, a different clash is taking place in the U.S. — among law enforcement and politicians over the true extent of spillover violence.

One side, made up mainly of local law enforcement and U.S. federal agencies, claims that the violence mostly stops at the border. The other side claims the border region is being overrun by drug cartels.


Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said the deputy shooting is the only confirmed case of spillover violence that his agency has handled.

Treviño bases his assessment on the definition of spillover set forth by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: any crime in the U.S. directly linked to a violent conflict in Mexico, either between Mexican authorities and drug trafficking organizations, or between two rival drug trafficking organizations.

That’s in stark contrast to the way Texas Department of Public Safety defines spillover: any drug-related violence.

By DPS’s standard, a conflict in New York between the Chinese triads and the Italian mafia over a drug deal gone wrong would be considered spillover, Treviño said.

“While 98 percent of the marijuana comes from Mexico, the majority of the violence that comes from that is not linked back to Mexico but to individuals here in the U.S.,” Treviño said.

The deputy incident was spillover because the shooting suspects had kidnapped various individuals in an effort to recover a drug load that had been taken from the Gulf Cartel, the sheriff said.

The drugs were stolen amid the confusion following the Reynosa slaying of Samuel “Metro 3” Flores Borrego, a Gulf Cartel lieutenant. The next boss in line ordered that the loads be recuperated. The cartel tasked a group of gang members with tracking the loads and recovering them. When the effort didn’t go as planned, the group kidnapped various alleged drug dealers, leading to the shooting incident.

Treviño said that although the case represents the only direct spillover from the drug war into Hidalgo County, “that doesn’t mean that we don’t have violence in the county.”

“Do we have violence? Yes, we do,” he said. “But is that violence directly linked to Mexico? No, it is not.”


A major critic of spillover violence is Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. He set up a website supporting his 2014 bid for lieutenant governor shortly after making headlines with a report on border security that decries current law enforcement practices.

Staples worked with two retired U.S. Army generals to publish the report, called “Texas Border Security: a Strategic Military Assessment.” In it, Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Gen. Robert H. Scales say Mexican cartels are seeking to establish a security zone on the U.S. side of the border.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, strongly disagrees with the assessment that the Texas border is a war zone or is being overrun by cartels.

“I take great offense to those words, which affect years and years of work to ensure communities on the border are safe and secure,” Cuellar said in a written statement. “A war zone is intended to invoke a negative connotation that is alarmist and creates confusion.”

In early November, the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott informed media outlets of a letter he sent to President Barack Obama in which he accused the administration of failing to protect the border and asked the president to confront the threat.

Treviño disagrees with Abbott’s statement.

In Hidalgo County, Treviño said he has implemented a four-step program aimed at securing the area. This week, Treviño traveled to Washington to meet with Obama and law enforcement officials to discuss border security.

Treviño said the four-step plan includes having some of his deputies undergo a special tactical training designed to apply SWAT-style techniques to brushy and other outdoor environments. The training is designed to address any type of incident along the border.

The Sheriff’s Office also has worked with the federal government to get hundreds of AR-15 assault rifles for deputies as well as some M-14 sniper rifles.

Treviño said his department has close partnerships with Department of Homeland Security agencies, and they have worked to develop contingency plans to address border incidents.


Though Abbott and Staples say Mexican cartels pose a grave danger to Texas, their claims don’t appear to be grounded in current crime statistics.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, the number of homicides reported in Hidalgo County in 2010 was considerably less than in other major metropolitan areas of Texas.

In 2010, 36 homicides were reported throughout the county. That same year, Houston reported 269 homicides, Dallas reported 148, San Antonio reported 79, and Austin reported 38.

“There are horrible things happening in Mexico, but that stops at the river,” Treviño said. “U.S. authorities working together stop it at the river.”

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