Gangs deeply rooted on U.S. side of Mexico border

Wed Apr 22, 2009 10:43pm EDT
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By Ed Stoddard and Jessica Rinaldi

MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - Homeowner Cosme Liscano is fed up with the gangs in his neighborhood in this Texas town near the Mexican border.

"This has been going on for three or four years now, they've been selling drugs," Liscano, 55, told Reuters as he stood in front of his house as members of the local gang enforcement unit frisked several suspects.

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.   Continued...

<p>A Hidalgo County Gang Enforcement Unit member holds out a bag of marijuana found on a suspected gang member in San Juan, Texas, in this April 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi/Files</p>