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Cross Border Impact

The practice is not new. It's just that the general American public hasn't been aware of the problem, that is, until this past weekend when an article appeared in the New York Times and was picked up. The "snatch and grab" variety of kidnappings has become a business. While the victims are often beaten and abused, the plan is not to hold the person for any extended period. Instead, the kidnappers go for a quick turn-around and get as much money as the victim's family can gather, with the threat of worse harm and repeated kidnappings if they don't pay. It more like extortion than it is kidnapping. These are similar to the so-called "express kidnappings" in which obviously wealthy individuals or businessmen are grabbed, brought to an ATM machine and then forced to empty their accounts, and then released.

According to Rodolfo GarcĂ­a Zamora, a professor at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas who studies migration trends, the changing dynamic, and the part that is "sending shivers across the border," is that people who live in Mexico but have children or relatives living in the United States are now being targeted.

"The relatives of Mexicans in the United States have become a new profit center for Mexico's crime industry. Hundreds of families are emigrating out of fear of kidnap or extortion, and Mexicans in the U.S. are doing everything they can to avoid returning. Instead, they're getting their relatives out."

It really isn't the frequency of kidnapping that concerns there people in a country were a kidnapping can occur as frequently as one every 4-6 hours. These "snatch and grab" crimes have been occurring for years. The criminals know that they can leverage the family's fear into a fast payday. Families, having witnessed the upsurge in violent crime resulting from the drug cartel violence, are more willing to pay, and pay quickly to retrieve their loved one. It is beginning to influence migration patterns. Mexican immigrants are coming, not just for a better life and a job, but to protect their families and run away from the violence. But it seems that those who are left behind have become the targets. That the kidnappers are now shown a willingness (and knowledge) to reach across the U.S. border to families is another sign of how what is happening "just across the border" is affecting people here in the U.S.

The real problem is that kidnappings related to the drug wars in Mexico are occurred in American cities.

In Phoenix recently, a woman, not surprisingly a relative of a drug smuggling family, was kidnapped as she left a retail store. Her family "arranged" her release.

Criminals and their family members are being kidnapped by fellow criminals and held for six-figure ransoms. The abductions are occurring in the Phoenix area at the rate of practically one per day, and police suspect they have led to killings in which bound and bullet-riddled bodies have been found dumped in the desert.

There are similar trends in other border cities like San Diego.

I spoke yesterday with an anonymous friend about the kidnapping of Felix Battista. The concern was that Battista had simple walked from a restaurant after answering a cell phone call, and been grabbed on the street. Battista's Houston-based emplyer, ASI Global says he was on "private business" when he was abducted. From what I hear, Battista was part of a "first responder" team. He was also a former FBI agent. Even though its been more than two weeks since his kidnapping, there is apparently no mention of a ransom demand and no attempt to retrieve him.

According to one F.B.I. source, Batista is one of least 17 U.S. residents kidnapped in Mexico since October 2008, mostly in the violent city of Tijuana bordering San Diego. Maybe coincidentally, or maybe because of concern that gun laws may be more restricted in coming years, there are indications that gun ownership and sales of ammunition in border states has increased.