Immigration, drug cartels and a Lakewood murder

The News TribuneJuly 7, 2013 

Still need a reason to look kindly on immigration reform? Would a defeat for Mexican drug cartels do the trick?

Some Americans might still have the perception that Mexico’s depraved drug lords are pretty much preoccupied with fighting each other and their government, with some thuggery spilling over into Arizona and other border states.

If only. Cartel operatives and contractors have thoroughly penetrated the United States, and many of them are Mexican criminals who camouflage themselves as ordinary Mexicans who crossed the border for jobs. The fact that so many of the latter are living in the shadows — and afraid of the police — makes it easy for the genuine bad guys to hide among them.

The cartels now run enormous quantities of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana from Mexico to nearly every part of the United States, typically along busy interstate highway corridors.

Interstate 5 included. Law enforcement agencies in Western Washington frequently encounter Mexican nationals linked to the drug cartels.

A murder in Lakewood last November is a case in point. On Nov. 12, Jaime Diaz-Solis of Mexico was shot to death in his apartment. It was a case of mistaken identity: The killers were actually gunning for another man who shared the apartment, Juan Hidalgo-Mendoza, also of Mexico.

Investigators found a reported eight pounds of heroin and an AK-style rifle in their place. In May, Hidalgo-Mendoza was convicted of drug-trafficking and firearms charges, and sentenced to 15 years.

The intended target, the accidental victim, their drug supplier and the man who ordered the shooting were all connected to a Mexican drug syndicate, say investigators.

You don’t have to go to Phoenix, let alone Juarez, to find cartel violence; it’s in already our backyard. Western Washington is rife with Mexican drug-trafficking, much of it conducted by Mexicans who move back and forth across the border as business requires.

The Puget Sound region is not alone. In January, the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that cartel networks had reached 1,286 American cities. The drug lords have built elaborate, highly organized, sophisticated criminal infrastructures in the United States.

Immigration reform would not shut down these sophisticated operations, but it would damage them. Immigrants who don’t live in fear of being deported are much more likely to work with law enforcement.

More important, the reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate last week would at last sort out the criminals from otherwise law-abiding immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The vast majority of Mexicans and Central Americans fall into the latter category. Under the legislation, they could apply for legal status and undergo background checks. But drug-traffickers and thugs would evade the process — and they’d have fewer decoys to hide behind.

The prospect of flushing out some of these rats is one of the more appealing virtues of immigration reform.

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