Violence and corruption by drug cartels hits homeland

While Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino staunchly maintains his innocence and has stated he was not aware of the illegal activities of his Panama Unit, corruption in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office runs very deep. Former Hidalgo Sheriff Brig Marmolejo served time in prison for his participation in drug-related crimes. Former Sheriff Conrado Cantu, who was the head of law enforcement in adjacent Cameron County, was sentenced to twenty-four years in prison without parole for accepting bribes from drug traffickers, laundering drug money, and related crimes which included accepting $10,000 to protect a drug smuggler. The presiding judge in Sheriff Cantu’s trial characterized the defendant’s crimes as, “…egregious activity that only served to promote the illegal narcotics trade.” (Robert Lee Maril, The Fence, pages 54-55; and Sergio Chapa, “Cantu Sentenced to 24 Years,” 14 December 2006, McAllen Monitor, p. 1.)

Another alarming example of increased violence among border law enforcement is the recent kidnapping and sexual assault of three females who illegally crossed the Rio Grande near Mission in March, 2014. A Customs and Border Protection agent, Esteban Manzanares, has been identified by the victims and by film surveillance in the case now being investigated by the FBI. Agent Manzanares, who committed suicide before he was about to be arrested in his apartment where he took one of his victims, is accused of detaining these three women, including two teenagers, as they sought to surrender to authorities. Agent Manzanares stands accused of taking these women to an isolated area where he slit the wrists of the mother of one of the victims, assaulted one of the teenagers, then took the remaining teenager to his apartment in nearby Mission. (Juan Carlos Llorca, FBI: Dead Border Agent Suspected in Kidnapping, Associated Press, 13 March 2014).

Several days after the assaults and kidnapping, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, apologized for Manzanares’ crime saying, “I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again.” ((Ildefonso Ortiz, “After Immigrants attacked, CBP chief apologizes, Reps. Cuellar and Castro chime in, civil rights attorney slams Border Patrol, The Monitor, 14 March 2014).

CBP Agent Manzanares joined the Border Patrol in 2008 during a time when Congress mandated a rapid increase of agents from a modest number of about 4,000 to the present 23,000. The professional training for all new agents at the Border Patrol academy was reduced from six months to just fifty-three days allowing little time to develop the professional law enforcement skills of all CBP agents who received less than two months of classroom and field experience in immigration law, Spanish, and weapons training.

The Panama Unit and the crimes against three Honduran females by a CBP agent in south Texas are symptomatic of border violence and corruption with direct ties to illegal drugs and human trafficking. The corruption of American law enforcement has become a significant problem along the border. The Mexican drug cartels which control drugs and human smuggling are directly responsible for a spiraling level of violence and crime which instills fear among residents on both sides of the border even as it lowers the quality of life for all who call the U.S.-Mexican borderlands their home.

Robert Lee Maril, a professor of Sociology at East Carolina University is the author of The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border. He blogs at