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For years, Southwestern states, particularly Arizona, have been trying to reduce the porosity of the Mexican-United States border, in part to control the flow of illegal drugs coming into the country.
Most of us are aware that drugs make their way to our region via Mexico and that the Mexican cartels are ruthless. But in the Northeast that threat seems relatively remote.
So we were intrigued when Michael Cutler made one of his regular appearances on WHJJ's "Helen Glover Show" and suggested that the cartels now have a serious presence in hundreds of U.S. cities.
Cutler spent 30 years with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (most of them as a criminal investigator) and is a fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization, which wants to limit both legal and illegal immigration in that state.
"A couple of hundred American cities are infested by members of the Mexican cartels, which, by the way, have been responsible for about 35 or 36 thousand people killed in Mexico just since Felipe Calderon became president," he said.
First, let's look at his choice of the provocative -- and loaded -- verb "infest."
The word is all too often used as a slur applied to immigrant populations. Cutler said in an interview that such usage would be inappropriate. But he said it does apply to the drug traffickers.
"I'm not talking about illegal aliens," he said. "'m speaking about the cartels," which he characterized as extraordinarily vicious.
So, to be clear, we were interested in applying the Truth-O-Meter solely to his claim that the reach of Mexican cartels has extended to hundreds of cities.
To infest is to live as a parasite or, in the words of The American Heritage Dictionary, "to inhabit or overrun in numbers or quantities large enough to be harmful, threatening or obnoxious."
We decided that having a drug distribution network in a city would clearly qualify as an infestation of illegal activity. Just dropping off drugs for distribution by other groups might not seem to qualify, but the effect of those deliveries is certainly harmful, threatening or obnoxious to a community.
We uncovered a series of articles on various websites reporting a similar claim made in April 2011 by Roberta Jacobson, deputy secretary of state for Mexico and Canada. According to one of them, she said the Mexican drug cartels are operating in more than 230 U.S. cities.
When we first heard from Cutler, he said his source was Janet Napolitano, the U.S. secretary for Homeland Security, who has repeatedly used the 230 number going back at least to 2009.
When we dug a bit deeper, we discovered the source of that estimate.
In December 2008, the U.S. Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center issued its 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment. It reports that Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) "control most of the U.S. drug market" with various transportation routes and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States.
"Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities," the report says.
The report includes a map showing where Mexican drug organizations were reported between Jan. 1, 2006, through Sept. 30, 2008. In New England, it includes Providence, Boston, Hartford, Portland, Fitchburg, Mass., and Greenville, N.H.
The 2009 version warns that it may contain outdated information, so we found the most recent report, released in February 2010. The newer version doesn't give a count of cities where the cartels have influence, but it does say that their reach is expanding, "primarily in areas where the direct influence of Colombian DTOs is diminishing" and that "they are active in more cities throughout the country than any other DTOs."
The 2010 report also says the Mexican cartels "are increasing their cooperation with U.S.-based street and prison gangs to distribute drugs and expand their reach into more rural and suburban areas." The report estimated that the United States has more than 900,000 "criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 street gangs in more than 2,500 cities."
Most recently, we've seen some direct evidence of cartel activity in Rhode Island. In January, three men whom law enforcement officials say are linked to a Mexican cartel were arrested in a storage unit in North Kingstown with 145 pounds of cocaine and $1.2 million in cash.
We should also note other evidence of Mexican cartel influence, even though it may not involve drugs. In February 2011, federal officials said they had identified a Mexico-based fraudulent-document trafficking operation that had cells in 19 cities, including one in Pawtucket. Cell managers were charged with various counts that included murder, racketeering, money-laundering and kidnapping. Prosecutors said kidnapping and beating was used to drive competitors out of the region.
To sum up, Cutler said that "a couple of hundred [U.S.] cities are infested by the Mexican cartels," a 2008 Justice Department report said the cartels either run drug distribution sites or supply illegal drugs for distribution in 230 cities, and the latest report said the influence of those cartels have only grown.
We rate his statement True.
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920WHJJ.com, "Summer Jobs and Illegals 6-7," Helen Glover Show, June 7, 2011, accessed June 8, 2011
Interviews and emails, Michael Cutler, June 10 and 17, 2011
AllHeadlineNews.com, "Mexican drug cartels move into U.S. cities, State Department official says," April 13, 2011, accessed June 9, 2011
DHS.gov; "Testimony of Secretary Janet Napolitano before Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Southern Border Violence: Homeland Security Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Responsibilities," March 25, 2009, accessed June 17, 2011
Justice.gov, "National Drug Threat Assessment: 2009," National Drug Intelligence Center, U.S. Justice Department, December 2008, accessed June 9, 2011
Justice.gov, "National Drug Threat Assessment: 2010," National Drug Intelligence Center, U.S. Justice Department, February 2010, accessed June 9, 2011
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