Fertile Ground for Mexican Mafia

By Maria Fotopoulos, Santa Barbara News-Press
September 23, 2007

Los Angeles-based writer Tony Rafael recently spoke to a sold-out Channel City Club audience, telling the crowd that the problem of the Mexican Mafia in the United States is "huge, and analogous to fighting a civil insurgency." And illegal immigration, Mr. Rafael says, serves the Mexican Mafia as a "conveyor belt of potential recruits and victims."

In his recently published book, "The Mexican Mafia," Mr. Rafael explores the history of this criminal drug-trafficking and murder enterprise, discusses how typical street gangs work and looks at the weak links in policing and in the justice system, including the California prison system, "home court" for the Mexican Mafia.

Mr. Rafael's exposé slowly reveals the operations of the Mexican Mafia (also known as "Eme," which is how the letter "m" is pronounced in Spanish) -- a prison gang that has power extending to the streets -- through the story of the prosecution of eight gang members tried for seven murders. The murders themselves are no less shocking than the families that have bred these criminals -- the mother of 12 with 32 grandchildren rarely seen, the father who locked his wife in a room and the kids in a closet, and the third-generation crime families. There also are the families in the making. Mr. Rafael has noted the number of young women who want to have the babies of gang members.

One of those tried, Mr. Rafael writes, "came to the U.S. from Mexico as a youngster and, like hundreds of thousands of other young people that cross the border illegally every year, failed to assimilate and was either sucked in or willingly jumped in to the easy familiarity of a gang." In fact, running throughout the book is a cast of illegal immigrants.

Newly arrived Mexican nationals who deal drugs are known as Border Brothers (BBs). They are "happy enough to be in the U.S., sell dope and obediently pay their taxes to the big homies," Mr. Rafael writes. The BBs often are well connected to the drug trade in Mexico and assume drug-smuggling activities across the border.

Eme seems to have proliferated in the last 50 years, because local police, along with state and federal law enforcement, were slow to recognize its influence on the streets, according to Mr. Rafael. An estimated 80,000 Hispanics are gang members in Los Angeles County. Of those, there may be 300 Eme Carnales. A "carnal," or brother, is the only Eme rank, as theoretically there is no leader, or "jefe grande."

Even though Hispanic street gangs have been part of L.A. since the early 1900s, most Angelinos -- and certainly most Americans -- don't really grasp the extent of gang power because it doesn't touch them. In L.A., the majority of murder victims and their murderers are gang members.

While strongly based in California and L.A. in particular, with mass illegal immigration from south of the U.S. border pounding the country, Eme "will find fertile ground for growth wherever a large enough population in Hispanics exists," says Mr. Rafael, who notes the "seemingly overnight" development of gang warfare in rural Nevada, Utah and Washington, among other American and Canadian areas.

The United States has served as the "host organism," says Mr. Rafael, for the "parasite" that is the Mexican Mafia. Mr. Rafael is optimistic, however, that real prison reform and appropriate resources at the street level can blunt this rampant criminal assault. But it will be a gargantuan effort to gut this crime syndicate that has direct and indirect costs estimated at $2 billion in L.A. alone. Knocking out the illegal immigration leg must be one weapon to use against it as well.

The author is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit.

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