Border securityWas Mexican border firefight killing 40 real?

By Lee Maril

Published 18 March 2013

It would seem that drug violence only stops at the Mexican border in the imaginations of Washington politicians. On example: Mexican journalists, because of fear for their own lives and the safety of their families, are increasingly reluctant to cover drug cartels’ violence and mayhem. What has occurred in recent months is that American reporters located in American border cities also have stopped reporting on drug-related violence across the border for the same reasons as their Mexican counterparts.

While different committees in both the House and the Senate continue to negotiate new immigration legislation, there was a massacre in Reynosa on Sunday, 10 March, which  should give pause to even the staunchest of those who argue that the Mexican border is “secure.”  Reynosa is the twin border city of McAllen in South Texas.

Ildefonso Ortiz reported in the  Brownsville Herald on 11 March 2013  that, “Fear and panic filled the streets of Reynosa on Sunday night as rival gunmen battled during a three-hour firefight that saw automatic weapons and grenades used.” According to this same reporter, “Surprisingly, Mexican authorities were absent for most of the melee.”

A source for this same story, a “Tamaulipas law enforcement official,” claims that more than three dozen men were killed in the shootout and that it is possible others were killed but the criminals involved retrieved the bodies of their fellow gunmen. 

In sharp contrast, the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office, according to this same story, stated that two bystanders were killed Sunday night and one other person injured.  It also stated that seven cartel members were arrested along with twenty-two vehicles involved in the shootout. 

While there are a number of bloggers who appear to validate the large number of deaths in Reynosa, there are absolutely no stories to date in the Mexican newspapers or other Mexican media giving credence to this event.  In the American media there is the lone report by Ildefonso Ortiz.  And that’s it.

The public is left to pick their story: either two bystanders were killed and a third injured during this incident in Reynosa, or the scale of the drug-related violence in this border city resembled the Syrian war.

The absence of full and creditable reporting in the Mexican media is not unusual.  For years the narco-trafficantes have been killing any and all Mexican journalists who report honestly about the scope and depth of the violence of the drug cartels and their influence throughout all of Mexican society.  The end result is that there are few Mexican journalists who feel secure enough to report on last Sunday night in Reynosa for fear of their own lives and the lives of their family members.  More than one Reynosa journalist has relocated to McAllen for reasons of safety.

But what has  occurred in recent months is that American reporters located in American border cities also have stopped reporting on drug-related violence across the border for the same reasons as their Mexican counterparts.  American reporters have stopped crossing the border into cities like Reynosa because they fear for their lives while in Mexico and, equally so, when they return to the American side of the border.  Drug violence only stops at the Mexican border, it would seem, in the imaginations of Washington politicians.

Absent, too, are our own regional and national journalists who have, for whatever reasons, chosen not to report on whatever happened Sunday night in Reynosa.  Nowhere in the New York Times or the Washington Post, for instance, is there any mention of this story.  The electronic media have been just as silent.

The end result of the almost complete absence of professional journalists, both Mexican and American, is that whatever happened in Reynosa last Sunday night is, at least to date, lost to human conscience and memory…as if it never happened. What we are left with, aside from the one story by reporter Ildefonso Ortiz, is a random series of eyewitness accounts by bloggers, the reliability of which always is in question.

At the same time that the Border Patrol has subcontracted out a new metric to once and for all adequately measure how “secure” our southern border with Mexico is, the reality on the ground seems to defy logic as we know it.  How can any new measure of border security, regardless of how ornate and mathematically complex, accurately measure what is occurring along the border when there is, because of the almost complete absence of the professional media, no way to separate fact from fiction?

What really happened last Sunday night in Reynosa?  Was it a massacre beyond the imagination or simply the random deaths of two bystanders? 

What happened, whatever it was, matters. And our politicians of both parties should consider this real vacuum of truth as they write, negotiate, and debate new legislation to fix our broken immigration system.

Robert Lee Maril, a professor of sociology at East Carolina University and founding director of the Center for Diversity and Inequality Research, is the author of The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border. He blogs at