(NewsNation) — When it comes to combatting illegal drugs coming across the border, cartels often seem to be one step ahead of U.S. officials, in part thanks to help from U.S. gangs.
Customs and Border Patrol officials on the front lines do their best to intercept drugs being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico. Cartels have been doubling down on their efforts, including recruiting American street gangs to act as distribution centers in major urban areas.
In two days, officials at the Nogales port of entry seized 2.5 million fentanyl pills, bringing the total at that single port of entry to more than 26.6 million pills confiscated by CPB officers in this fiscal year alone.
On top of that, law enforcement along the southern border say they are only catching between 5 and 10 percent of what is being sent across.
“The cartels have known this for a long time. They’re ahead of the game,” said retired ICE agent Victor Avila.
To mitigate losses during drug and immigrant smuggling, cartels rely on networks of scouts to conduct surveillance on law enforcement. For officials, it is getting harder to get ahead of the cartels as their presence is growing.
“The rest of the country is heavily influenced by the cartel with corruption in the money and at all levels of the police in the criminal justice system, the judges, the politicians, the media, you name it. And so that’s how these guys have run a parallel government basically,” Avila said.
Cartel recruitment efforts are ramping up in the U.S. as they wrangle members of notoriously violent American gangs like the Bloods, the Crips and the Aryan Brotherhood to work both sides of the border.
The Texas Department of Public Safety estimates there are more than 100,000 gang members in the state, many with ties to Mexican drug cartels like the Tango Blast group, which has between 22,000 and 25,000 members. In California, the Mexican Mafia is fully operational and has documented ties to cartels.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has kept a watchful eye on this growing trend in major American cities like Chicago, where multiple cartel factions are operational, including the Sinaloa and Gulf cartel. They’re flooding cities with drugs that are then being sold and distributed by violent street gangs at a local level.
While recruitment is done via social media or word of mouth for some members, the cartel lifestyle chooses them.
“You have these kids growing up. And that’s all they know, their aspiration is not to graduate from high school and go on to college to become an engineer. That’s just the sad fact that that’s not what’s happening,” Avila said.
In response to the uptick in cartel and gang activity, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the opening of the latest Anti-Gang Center in Laredo, the 9th of its kind in the state.