Barrio Azteca on the Slide, MS13 on the Rise in Texas: Report

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The latest report on Texas gangs has downgraded the threat posed by Barrio Azteca while upgrading the MS13, reflecting how US gangs often respond to Latin American underworld dynamics.

The Texas Department of Public Safety’s annual Gang Threat Assessment reports that the threat posed by the once formidable cross-border gang Barrio Azteca has reduced, with the gangs status dropping from Tier 1 to Tier 2. According to the report, the gang’s influence has been reduced as a result of a deteriorating relationship with the Mexico’s Juarez Cartel, successful law enforcement operations and infighting.

However, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), the transnational street gang that holds sway over much of Central America and several parts of the United States, has been placed in the Tier 1 category over fears that gang members have been illegally entering the country from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. 

The MS13 join Tango Blast and Tango Cliques, Texas Syndicate, Texas Mexican Mafia, and the Latin Kings as Tier 1 threats to public security in Texas.

Each gang?s threat potential — categorized as Tier 1, 2 or 3 — is determined by a threat assessment matrix created by the Joint Crime Information Center. This assessment considers such factors as relationship with drug cartels, transnational criminal activity, level of criminal activity, level of violence, prevalence throughout the state, total strength, organizational effectiveness, juvenile membership , threat to law enforcement, and involvement in human smuggling and trafficking.

However, while the gangs are separated into tiers, the report also notes a growing trend towards “hybrid membership,” in which individuals claim affiliation to various gangs, allowing larger gangs to increase their influence and reach, and providing smaller gangs with greater protection during incarceration.

Joint Crime Information Center 2015 Gang Rankings

InSight Crime Analysis

The Barrio Azteca gang has been a significant player in cross-border organized crime in recent years, and even played a major role in the brutal war between the Juarez Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel for control of the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. While the war ended with defeat for Barrio Azteca’s allies in the Juarez Cartel, the conflict allowed them to cement their presence in Mexico and increase their involvement in drug trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.

However, according to the report, the continued decline of the Juarez Cartel, which saw its last powerful leader, Vicente Carrillo Fuente captured in October 2014, along with the competition from the now firmly rooted Sinaloans has reduced the Aztecas’ influence in Mexico, which in turn has created a more level playing field with gangs across the border in Texas.

SEE ALSO: Barrio Azteca

While the reports assessment of Barrio Azteca follows a certain underworld logic, its claim that the threat posed by the MS13 is increasing is more dubious. The report repeats claims that the recent increase in migrants from Central America has included large numbers of gang members as the basis for the growing threat — claims that have yet to be substantiated by significant statistical evidence and which often appear to follow a political agenda.   

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