Cartels, Drugs and Money

By Melissa del Bosque, Texas Observer

Mexico’s drug war is enriching Texas border communities in more ways than one. Not only have wealthy Mexican business owners invested in the region, local law enforcement is benefiting from millions in assets seized from drug traffickers.

Texas has some of the country’s broadest asset-forfeiture rules. The law allows personal assets to be seized by officers during the investigation of possible felonies and misdemeanors. Funds from seized assets are distributed by federal agencies to local law enforcement agencies after joint investigations.

Increasingly, such money is being used to build surveillance networks and militarize the border, which is already bristling with predator drones, armored gun boats, the National Guard and a border fence. Civil liberties advocates like the ACLU want to ensure that privacy laws and First Amendment rights in border communities keep pace with security measures. “With drones and other surveillance technology, our concern is always, what kind of data are they collecting, how is it kept, and what other entities are they sharing it with?” says ACLU of Texas policy strategist Matt Simpson. “Communities need to have a say in how their communities are being policed.”

In September, the Mission Police Department installed a surveillance network of 32 cameras in Mission for an estimated $395,000, according to McAllen newspaper The Monitor. The network is already equipped with automated license plate readers, which can scan and process thousands of license plates per hour. Civil libertarians are concerned that there are virtually no rules or guidelines about how the data can be used and shared.

The department could afford the state-of-the-art technology because it received $1.18 million this year from the seized assets of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, former boss of the Gulf Cartel, who is serving a life sentence in the United States.

More money is on the way. Four decades into America’s war on drugs, asset forfeiture funds at the state and federal level are ballooning. In 2011, the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund was $1.8 billion, more than three times the $500 million balance in 2003.

Defense contractors are following the money. It’s estimated that the state and local law enforcement market for homeland security expenditures will reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from approximately $15.8 billion in 2009, according to a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Now, even the border’s smallest police departments have SWAT units, armored carriers and other military-grade equipment. In August, the Laredo Morning Times reported that the Webb County Sheriff’s office is considering buying a drone helicopter for surveillance. No doubt Webb County can afford it. In September, Sheriff Martin Cuellar received a check for more than $800,000 from the federal government for his department’s role in busting a drug smuggling ring.

This article was first published in The Texas Observer.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-basedNexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.

[Photo By DEA]

Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

How a harsh criticism turned ‘Coco’ into Pixar’s most uniquely made movie yet

Victor Landa November 17, 2017

Director Lee Unkrich was hot off the box office success and Oscar win for 2010’s “Toy Story 3” when he delved into making a movie that focused on the Mexican […]

Trump Administration Targets and then Mocks Immigrant with Prosthetic Leg

Victor Landa November 15, 2017

A 20-year-old undocumented immigrant with prosthetic leg and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status has been detained by federal immigration agents and held without charges for over a month, treated inhumanely […]

More Latinas are becoming teachers and reshaping our nation’s classrooms

Victor Landa November 29, 2017

The growth of the Latino population in the United States will have a lasting cultural and intellectual impact beyond the arts, food, and celebrations. More and more, Latinas are becoming […]

As Numbers Grow, Recognizing Generations Of Latino Veterans

Victor Landa November 10, 2017

As the nation honors its veterans, government officials point to the growing numbers of Latinos in the military, while Hispanic scholars and historians remind us of the generations of Latino […]

U.S Hispanic Chamber Leader Who Has Had Turbulent Relationship With Trump May Be Ousted

Victor Landa November 22, 2017

The US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) is moving behind the scenes to oust its prominent president Javier Palomarez over allegations that he misused the organization’s money for his personal […]

How Indie Latinx Comic Book Authors Are Capturing the Latinx Experience

Victor Landa November 13, 2017

Back in 2010, comics creator Javier Hernandez was walking around San Francisco with his friend Ricardo Padilla when he had an idea: Why don’t they build a comics convention focusing […]

Half of Latino Immigrant Characters on TV Are Portrayed as Criminals, Study Finds

Victor Landa November 1, 2017

Define American, the immigration nonprofit founded by Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, has released its first-ever media reference guide for writers, directors, and producers concerning Latino immigrant characters. Immigrants and […]

Could Hispanic vote push Lupe Valdez into Texas Governor’s Office?

Victor Landa December 8, 2017

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez is running as a Democratic candidate for Texas Governor after a year of speaking out on big state issues– particularly the controversial sanctuary cities ban. Experts says […]