“Not all illegal aliens are crossing into the United States to find work. Law enforcement officials indicate that there are individuals coming across the border who are forced to leave their home countries because of criminal activities. These dangerous criminals are fleeing the law in other countries and seeking refuge in the United States.”
Illegal Immigrants: Drugs, Gangs and Crime
Paramilitary groups trading fire with U.S. agents. Kidnappings and murders of U.S. citizens. Members of al-Qaida, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations infiltrating the border on a routine basis. We are not talking about Iraq – but Texas. One of the clearest indicators the United States has lost control of its southwest border is the ease with which thousands of tons of drugs and millions of illegal aliens are crossing the U.S. border on an annual basis. This open borders policy has opened the door to more than just cheap labor. The presence of millions of undocumented persons in our country has provided a perfect cover for various forms of criminal activity, ranging from drug trafficking to prostitution to identity theft.
Federal investigators believe that as much as 2.2 million kilograms of cocaine and 11.6 kilograms of marijuana were smuggled into the United States via the Mexican border in 2005.1 With the decline of the Medellin and Cali cartels of Colombia, two Mexican drug cartels – the Sinaloa cartel and the Gulf cartel – are battling over the billion-dollar drug trade between Mexico and the United States. These cartels also have ties to U.S. gangs that serve as distribution networks in the interior United States. A 2006 study by the House Committee on Homeland Security warns that the Mexican cartels have essentially wrested control of the border from both the U.S. and Mexican governments:
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the Mexican drug syndicates operating today along our Nation’s Southwest border are far more sophisticated and dangerous than any of the other organized criminal groups in America’s law enforcement history. Indeed, these powerful drug cartels, and the human smuggling networks and gangs they leverage, have immense control over the routes into the United States and continue to pose formidable challenges to our efforts to secure the Southwest border. … The cartels operate along the border with military grade weapons, technology and intelligence and their own respective paramilitary enforcers. … This new breed of cartel is not only more violent, powerful and well financed, it is also deeply engaged in intelligence collection on both sides of the border.2
Here in North Carolina, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports “a significant increase in drug-trafficking activity.” Explains the DEA: “The majority of the increased drug-trafficking activity is due to an unprecedented influx of foreign nationals into the state” – in particular “Spanish-speaking, specifically Mexican, nationals.” A 2003 report by the National Drug Intelligence Center corroborates the DEA’s findings:
Mexican criminal groups in southwestern states and Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Mexico routinely use Mexican illegal immigrants in North Carolina as couriers to transport cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and, to a lesser extent, heroin into and through the state. These criminal groups exploit a growing Mexican population in North Carolina to facilitate their illicit activities. Law enforcement authorities in North Carolina, principally in the western and southern areas of the state, indicate that Mexican criminal groups are also increasing their involvement in retail drug distribution.3
Needless to say, the majority of illegal immigrants are not directly involved in the drug trade. Nevertheless, the DEA has determined that “their presence allows Mexican traffickers to effectively conceal their activities within immigrant communities.”4 Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell (R) estimates that 80 percent to 85 percent of the drug trade in his county is conducted by Hispanics.5 In 2002, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office similarly reported that although Hispanics comprised only 5.4 percent of the population, they accounted for 46 percent of drug-trafficking arrests.6
As indicated above, transnational gangs, such as Surenos-13 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), are responsible for much of the low-level drug trade in North Carolina. Over the past several years, North Carolina has experienced a disturbing surge in gang activity. Between 1999 and 2004, Wake County saw a 5,743.3 percent increase in gang membership. During the same period, the city of Durham saw a 333.3 percent increase.7 A 2005 report by the Governor’s Crime Commission estimated that 22.2 percent of all gang members in North Carolina are Hispanic (with ethnicity unknown for another 19.4 percent).8 By contrast, Hispanics accounted for only 7 percent of total state population in 2004.
Nationally, Hispanics are thought to comprise 49 percent of total gang membership. A majority of these gang members are illegal immigrants. Notes Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace (D), “There is an increasing gang activity problem, particularly with MS-13 and studies have shown that the majority of those gang members are illegal aliens.”9 Among these studies is a report published by the Governor’s Crime Commission which posits that 66 percent of Hispanic/Latino gang members are illegal aliens.10 In the case of MS-13, one of the most violent and powerful gangs in North Carolina, federal authorities estimate that “approximately 90 percent of U.S. MS-13 members are foreign-born illegal aliens and depend upon the Texas-Mexico border smuggling corridor to support their criminal operations.”11 As Forsyth County District Attorney Tom Keith (R) puts it, “You cannot say ‘drugs’ without saying ‘gangs’ without saying ‘illegal aliens.’”12
In addition to the drug trade, the Mexican cartels are becoming increasingly involved in human trafficking (i.e., prostitution) and human smuggling. According to Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin of the Violent Crimes Institute, “Mexico is the number one source for young female sex slaves in North America.” Each year thousands of women and children – with 12-year-olds in top demand – are smuggled across the border and sent to brothels across the United States. Such brothels, notes Schurman-Kauflin, “can take the form of homes, apartments, spas, massage parlors, and hotels … even middle class neighborhoods can be at risk.”13
As for human smuggling, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security reports that the typical illegal alien pays between $1,200 and $2,500 to be taken across the border. Not infrequently, illegals pay back these fees by selling drugs once they get to America.14 The drug cartels are also smuggling non-Mexican (OTMs) aliens into the United States, often charging between $45,000 and $60,000 per person to do so.15 Since 2001, border apprehensions of “special interest aliens” are up 41 percent. Indeed, FBI Director Robert Mueller has alerted Congress that “there are individuals from countries with known al Qa’ida connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic immigrants.”16
Once illegals get across the border, many have jobs, as well as fraudulent documents, waiting for them. In 2001, for instance, Tyson Foods Inc. was indicted for conspiring to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States to work at the company’s chicken processing plants.17 Federal agents caught one Tyson plant manager in Monroe requesting as many as 500 illegal workers, complete with photo IDs and Social Security cards. Immigration authorities have also discovered that criminal groups, such as the Castorena Family Organization (CFO), control cells of counterfeiters in major American cities. These organizations provide illegal aliens with high-quality counterfeit documents, such as Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, proof of vehicle insurance cards, even counterfeit utility bills.18
Many illegal aliens are also resorting to identify theft. During a recent raid at Smithfield Foods in the Bladen County town of Tar Heel, investigators found that 86 percent of workers arrested for immigration violations had also stolen identities from American citizens. Warns U.S. Attorney General George Holding, “It’s an epidemic problem.”19
Drunk Driving and Other Crimes
In addition to drug trafficking and identity theft, illegal aliens also have higher rates of drunk driving and may have higher rates of sexual deviancy. According to the radical Hispanic advocacy group, El Pueblo, “Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Hispanics in North Carolina; more than 20 percent compared to only 2.2 percent for Whites and 2.4 for African Americans.”20 A 2006 report by the UNC Highway Safety Research Center likewise concluded that Hispanic drivers involved in crashes are two-and-a-half times more likely to be intoxicated than are whites; and three times more likely than blacks.21 Finally, a study by Dr. Schurman-Kauflin concluded that “there are approximately 240,000 illegal immigrant sex offenders in the United States.”22 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also runs a special program, “Operation Predator,” which targets foreign nationals who commit sex crimes against children. To date, more than 10,000 individuals have been arrested through this ICE initiative, resulting in more than 5,500 deportations.23
Between 2000 and 2006, the number of aliens (legal status unknown) entering North Carolina’s prison system increased by 210 percent (and this figure doesn’t include the 2,676 inmates processed for deportation under Mecklenburg County’s 287(g) program). During the same period, the number of aliens on parole increased by 370 percent. Similarly, Sheriff Jim Pendergraph (D) observed that between 2003 and 2007, the number of illegal aliens in his Mecklenburg County prison system went from 2 percent to 20 percent, a tenfold increase.
In an attempt to deal with the rising number of illegal aliens engaged in criminal activities, the 2007 General Assembly authorized a one-time appropriation of $750,000 to help the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association provide “technical assistance and training associated with immigration enforcement” to local law enforcement. Essentially, this money is to be used to help county sheriffs implement the federal 287(g) program, which trains local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws. It is unclear, though, whether these limited funds will be enough to tempt sheriffs to take on a program that has, not only long-term benefits, but also long-term costs.
Similarly, the General Assembly agreed at the final hour to pass a law (S.L. 2007-494) that requires jail personnel to verify the immigration status of persons convicted of a felony or a DWI. The state is to annually report the results of this verification process – not to the Department of Homeland Security – but to the Governor’s Crime Commission. According to the legislation, the mere fact that the state makes an inquiry through U.S. Customs regarding a prisoner’s legal status provides sufficient notice to federal authorities. While similar measures in Georgia and Colorado require jail personnel to formally alert federal immigration authorities, North Carolina has adopted a much more passive approach to reporting illegal immigrant felons. But given the magnitude of the problem and the limited resources of ICE, it is unlikely that this new law will do much to reduce criminal activity by illegal aliens. Moreover, even once they are deported, many repeat offenders return. In Mecklenburg County, for instance, at least one-third – but probably more – of illegals return after being arrested and deported.24 This is not to say that the public safety of our state does not require the aggressive deportation of criminal illegal aliens. But deportation alone is not going to be enough. As a country we need to take steps to prevent such criminals from entering the United States in the first place. Comprehensive immigration reform must begin by securing the border.
1. “A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border,” Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Investigations (October 2006), 3; available from
2. “Line in Sand,” 7, 4, 22.
3. “North Carolina Drug Threat Assessment,” National Drug Intelligence Center & Drug Enforcement Administration (April 2003), 3; available from http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs3/3690/3690p.pdf.
4. “North Carolina: 2007,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; available from http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/states/northcarolina.html.
5. Karen Welsh, “Illegal Immigrants Filling Jails,” Carolina Journal Online (July 27, 2006); available from http://www.carolinajournal.com/exclusives/display_exclusive.html?id=3465.
6. Oren Dorell, “Latino gang activity surges,” News & Observer (August 24, 2003).
7. Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis, Gang Wars (Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, 2007), 64; available from http://www.justicepolicy.org/reports_jl/7-10-07_gangs/GangsFullReport2.p….
8. Richard Hayes, “Gangs in North Carolina: A Comparative Analysis Between 1999 and 2004,” North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center/N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission (Spring 2005), 3; available from http://www.ncgccd.org/PDFs/SystemStats/Spring05.pdf. While these increases are likely attributable to a greater awareness among law enforcement regarding gang activity, the 2005 study also narrowed the definition of what constitutes a gang.
9. Matthew Whittle, “Duplin seeking anti-gang funding,” Goldsboro News-Argus (Feb. 18, 2007); available from http://www.newsargus.com/news/archives/2007/02/18/duplin_seeking_antigan….
10. Alison Rhyne and Douglas Yearwood, The Nature and Scope of Hispanic/Latino Gangs in North Carolina, Department of Crime Control and Public Safety/N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission (September 2005), 15; available from http://www.ncgccd.org/pdfs/pubs/HispanicGangs.pdf.
11. “Line in Sand,” 16.
12. Dan Galindo, “Illegal immigrants cause trouble, officials say,” Winston-Salem Journal (April 13, 2006); available from http://www.journalnow.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSJ%2FMGArticle%2FW….
13. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, “Profiling Sex Trafficking: Illegal Immigrants at Risk,” Violent Crimes Institute; available from http://www.drdsk.com/articles.html#SexTrafficking.
14. Heather Mac Donald, “The Illegal-Alien Crime Wave,” City Journal (Winter 2004); available from http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_1_the_illegal_alien.html.
15. “Line in Sand,” 14.
16. Ibid, 30.
17. While Tyson itself was acquitted of the charges in 2003, two former managers pled guilty to the charges; another manager committed suicide.
18. “Fact Sheet: The Castorena Family Criminal Organization,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (July 20, 2005); available from http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/050720castorena_family.htm.
19. Mike Baker, “Illegal Immigrants Face ID Theft Charges,” Associated Press (August 28, 2007); available from http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/08/28/ap4061646.html.
20. “El Pueblo, Inc. Launches New Demonstration Project to Reduce Impaired Driving Fatalities and Injuries Within the North Carolina Hispanic Community,” (June 28, 2006); available from http://www.elpueblo.org/docs/press-releases/DWIPressRelease.pdf. El Pueblo is an affiliate of the radical Hispanic advocacy group, National Council of La Raza (NCLR). See http://www.nclr.org/content/browse/affiliates/?op_states=33.
21. Larry Copeland, “Anti-drunken-driving efforts aimed at Latinos,” USA Today (April 10, 2007); available from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-04-10-hispanic-dui_N.htm. The report was produced for El Pueblo. HSRC Director Dr. Robert Foss cautions, however, that the reported statistics are not weighted to account for a disproportionately larger number of Hispanic males.
22. Schurman-Kauflin’s work has been cited numerous times by federal officials, but some questions remain regarding her methodology.
23. “Fact Sheets: Operation Predator,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (June 2007); available from http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/070607operationpredator.htm.
24. Jim Pendergraph, “What the Section 287 (g) Program Can Do for Your Community,” Sheriff, March-April 2007), 11; available from http://www.charmeck.org/NR/rdonlyres/euo4kph6w2lnjrcj6j2z33nbaoamlksxwur….