Aug. 25, 2008print email Digg it del.icio.us AIM
By ALICIA A. CALDWELLAssociated Press Writer
EL PASO, Texas -- Warring Mexican drug cartels have given their hit men permission to cross into the United States to kill their targets, according to warnings received by U.S. authorities.
Police and federal agents told The Associated Press about the warnings Monday, and officials along the border are beefing up security.
"We received credible information that drug cartels in Mexico have given permission to hit targets on the U.S. side of the border," El Paso police spokesman Officer Chris Mears said. "One of the first things we did was to notify all officers in our department of the situation."
Mears says authorities learned of the threat last week. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officers have also been told about the threat and have ramped up security at border crossings.
"We are aware of it and we are addressing it," Chief CBP Officer Rick Lopez said. "CBP is on heightened alert ever since we became aware of the threats in Mexico."
U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said agents in the El Paso Sector, which includes the two most western Texas counties and all of New Mexico, said Border Patrol officials "are reinforcing the importance of vigilance."
"We are closely monitoring these developments and will act accordingly to protect the integrity of the border," Mosier said. "We are always in the business of analyzing this type of information."
Drug cartel violence has claimed thousands of lives across Mexico this year. Nearly 800 people have been killed this year in Ciudad Juarez, a hard-scrabbled city of about 1.3 million people across the Rio Grande from El Paso.
The cartels, battling each other and the Mexican government for supremacy and control of lucrative drug and human smuggling routes, have become brazen in their attacks in recent months.
In Juarez earlier this month, masked gunmen stormed a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and killed eight people. Days later, Red Cross workers stopped treating gunshot victims for several hours after receiving death threats over Red Cross radios. The Red Cross had already stopped responding to emergency calls after 10 p.m. because of security concerns.
The deadly wave of shootings and a rise in kidnappings for ransom has prompted an untold number of Mexican nationals, including police officers, a prosecutor and a journalist to seek asylum in the U.S.
Immigration experts say their pleas have little chance of success, but lawyers representing asylum seekers have said their clients are willing to risk eventually being kicked out of the U.S. rather than stay in Mexico.
While the ongoing cartel war has been largely contained in Mexico, more than two dozen gunshot victims have been taken across the border for medical treatment in El Paso, prompting security lockdowns at the county hospital. The trend has spawned fears in El Paso that the violence could spill across the border.
Lopez said agents working at the ports, where those gunshot victims have been taken before coming into the U.S., are taking extra security precautions. Ambulances transporting gunshot victims are already being escorted by local law enforcement to the hospital, he said.
Earlier this year law enforcement officials in New Mexico and Texas announced that they had received a purported cartel hit list identifying 15 to 20 potential victims living in both states.
Mears said there were no specific targets listed as part of the latest threat.
George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert with the College of William and Mary in Virginia, said the latest threat is an "acceleration of what has been going on" in Mexico.
"It's further evidence of the blatant, just the audacity ... of these cartels," Grayson said. "You've got three cartels in Juarez, with a fight between the Gulf and the Sinaloa cartels, along with the Juarez Cartel. So that might have contributed to pushing some people across the border."