A recent US Army-commissioned study found that Mexican cartels have entered into 48 of the 50 U.S. states, and have opened up at least 235 sophisticated distribution networks throughout North America.
The study, carried out by the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, claims that Mexican drug trafficking organizations represent "a new form of widespread, networked criminal insurgency" and calls for a "comprehensive national strategy encompassing enforcement, treatment, [and] prison reform."
The document claims that Mexican drug gangs have established operations in Washington, DC, as well as an unspecified number of provinces in Canada. The strongest presence is in Texas, with an estimated 32 drug distribution networks, followed by California with 31, and the state of Washington, with 24. The drug industry brings in, according to this study, 25 to 40 billion dollars a year, which is equivalent to 5 percent of Mexico's GDP and twice the value of remittances sent by Mexican migrants annually. Perhaps the most alarming finding in the study is the degree of "spillover violence" in the southwestern states. One Arizona resident mentioned in the study reports the following incident:
"One week before the murder (of an Arizona rancher) Bob and his brother Phil hauled a huge quantity of drugs off the ranch that they found in trucks. One week before that a rancher near Naco did the same thing. Two nights later gangs broke into his ranch house and beat him and his wife and told them that if they touched any drugs they found they would come back and kill them."
Confrontations such as these are increasingly common in the region, as drug gangs have become bolder in attacking isolated ranchers. Additionally, the report describes an increase in kidnappings in the southwest with Phoenix, Arizona, reporting 370 incidents in 2009. Although the authors claim that most of the victims of these crimes are undocumented immigrants linked to the drug trade, they note that the cartels carry out such operations through "branch offices' in more than 230 U.S. and Canadian cities, which is a testament to their degree of penetration.
The full text of the report can be accessed here.