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Cartels influence in Texas

They are here. Despite all of the denials to the contrary, they are here. "They" are the Mexican drug cartels operating in the visible background of American gangs, both in our prisons and on our streets. They have names like Barrio Azteca, Mexican Mafia; the Texas Syndicate; Tango Blast; Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos (Brotherhood of Latin Gunmen;) and Raza Unida (People United). They are aligned with the cartels.

The relationships building between Mexico's cartels and Texas gangs are in many ways a natural progression since the Mexican drug cartels took over for the Colombians back in the late 1980s. They began pushing more and more drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border rather than trying to sneak them in from the waterfront edges of the country.

And they did it with U.S.-based gangs.

All told,15,795 gang members have been identified in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which maintains a Web-based database to help police agencies share information. Last year, the system, known as TxGang, was enhanced to add photos of gangsters faces and tattoos.

They operate in North Texas, not just on the border. Earlier this week, two local drug lords who go by the names of "Rica" and "Chato" pled guilty to working with La Familia, the cartel located in Michoacán, Mexico. They were taken in the October 2009 federal Drug Enforcement Administration-led "Project Coronado" along with 100 others.

Maybe even more troubling than all of this is that federal officials acknowledged that Austin Texas, the State Capitol and home to the main campus of the University of Texas, is now a distribution hub for the drug cartels.

The City of Austin Public Safety Commission called upon local leaders of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Austin Police Department to update the city regarding concerns about how the changing dynamics of the drug war in Mexico is affecting the Austin area.

Agent Greg Thrash of the federal DEA indicated that operating in Austin were members of La Familia, the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. Austin Police Department Commander Chris Noble said that it is estimated that there are more than 2000 gangs members in Austin, a 20% increase versus 2008. Austin Texas is now designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

"What is Austin being used for? We're being used for two things: commanding control and transit and distribution hub. We know that through our investigations and through actual empirical data," Thrash said.

We have a problem. Denial is not the solution. It is, however, a matter of perspective.

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