The gangs of McAllen
These gangs were not active when I lived in San Benito south of McAllen, but that was several decades ago. I am not surprised that they exist now. I am more surprised that they are not more closely coordinated with the criminal insurgents in Mexico. The Mexican insurgents have corrupted several law enforcement officials along the border. I think it would be easier and less dangerous to further corrupt these gang members.
As violence spirals across the border in Mexico, law enforcement officials on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas say they have not seen significant spillover.
But while American border towns have not seen anything remotely approaching the blood-stained carnage of some north Mexican cities where rival drug cartels are in a high-stakes war that killed over 6,000 people last year, criminal street and prison gangs have long been a way of life in south Texas.
And while the links they may have to the Mexican cartels are often murky there are concerns that the drug lords to the south can tap this ready-made criminal infrastructure for a range of nefarious purposes.
In semi-rural Hidalgo County which lies to the north of the Rio Grande River separating Texas and Mexico, Sheriff Guadalupe Trevino reckons that there are about two dozen hardcore gangs operating -- a staggering number for a county with about 750,000 people.
"We have a serious gang problem here and have for a long time ... I believe we have more gangs than any other county on the border," Trevino told Reuters.
The extent of the problem -- the gangs often keep their fighting among themselves -- is hard to comprehend driving past citrus orchards or down the busy roads leading to the border. Some of the towns here are among the safest in the country.
But driving in poor, run-down neighborhoods in an unmarked SUV, heavily armed members of Trevino's elite gang enforcement unit point out gang graffiti scrawled on the sides of ramshackle homes. "Brown Pride" and "Tri-City Bombers" are among the many gangs competing for local turf.
"In the United States the local gangs play a major role in the distribution of the drugs brought in from Mexico. In southern California there has been significant cooperation between the drug cartels and the gangs there," said Matthew J. Desarno, acting unit chief of the Safe Streets and Gang Unit at Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters.
"We believe that the gangs in Texas are following that (southern California) model to establish links with the cartels to expand their own business operations ... Gang members will do what is profitable," he told Reuters by phone.