When social change isn't fast enough to prevent pain and death.
Subject: War (Influence)
War (Health aspects)
Author: Hixson, Ronald
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 260 General services
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 218313996

As trained healers, we often find ourselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to helping people find peace of mind and inner balance. Nowhere is this more obvious than when working with people who live and work in communities along the Mexican border. There is probably no greater frustration than working to stop the deportation process that tears families apart and throws one or more members, including young children, into the fire of war.


If you haven't heard about the war in Mexico, you have been living in a cave. While cave living does not require keeping up with the news, being a psychotherapist or other health care provider requires that we keep abreast of the social changes and needs of change within our lives, the lives of our patients, and in our professional practices.

Recent national television programs have been educating the general public about the war factions in Mexico, the roles of the different parties to the conflict, and the extent to which the violence has spread across Mexico and into the United States News articles are written and printed on blogs and in newspapers that have a large area of influence. Ir is a good chance that you or your agency may, at some time in the near future, have a client that has been traumatized or has lost a loved one in the war. Those therapists living and practicing on the Mexican border are already seeing patients who know of someone who has been kidnapped, raped, tortured, or killed in Mexico. Now Americans are waking up to find that their teenage neighbor has just been arrested for being an assassin for the factions in Mexico. Killer teens are paid a weekly retainer fee ranging from $500 to $50,000 for a "hit" (killing someone who is targeted by the factions in Mexico). Killer teens who were recently arrested in Laredo, Texas, had dropped out of school and were driving new Mercedes as they traveled back and forth across the bridge separating Laredo from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

At the age of 13, Rosalio Reta was recruited as alt assassin by a drug gang in Nuevo Laredo while he and others were drinking at bars. "I thought l was Superman. I loved doing it, killing that first person," he told Laredo police investigators. "They tried to take the gun away, but it was like taking candy from a kid" (as cited in Lavandera, 2009). The investigators reported that Reta and Gabriel Cardona were recruited by a group identified as "Los Zetas," a gang composed of former Mexican special forces personnel who have connections with local law enforcement ;is well as in state and federal governments of Mexico. Detective Garcia of the Laredo police department stated: "There are sleeper cells in the U.S. They're here, they're here in the United States" (as cited in Lavandera, 2009).

Other news reports describe how the Zetas, working with drug cartels, recruit. They made banners and fliers to advertise the benefits of joining one of Mexico's largest drug cartels; these benefits included "good pay, free cars, and better chow to army soldiers" (Hawley, 2008). The article further describes these bizarre recruiting efforts:

'We don't feed you Mexican soups' read one such banner. The recruiting effort by the Gulf Cartel reflects how Mexico's fight against traffickers increasingly resembles a real war, 17 months after President Felipe Calderon ordered the army into drug hotspots. Smugglers are now training for battle in shooting ranges, using psychological warfare, and fighting the army with machine guns and grenades. Another advertisement read: 'Join the ranks of the Gulf Cartel. We offer benefits, life insurance, a house for your family and children. Stop living in the shuns and riding the bus. A new car or truck what more could you ask for?' (Hawley, 2008)

Last year, over 5,600 people were killed in Mexico, many tortured and/or beheaded. The Gulf Cartel uses the Zetas to settle disputes, inflict terror, and get revenge on those who do not do what they want them to do. Authorities believe that the Gulf Cartel and other drug gangs are moving further north because of the lucrative drug business. "Mexican drug cartels now operate in almost every region of the United States and bring in as much as $23 billion a year in revenue, according to a Government Accounting Office report" (Roig-Franzia, 2007). Roig-Franzia also reports:

The Mexican government has bravely stood up to the Gulf Cartel and has contributed money and additional troops around the country, including border communities. In this situation, it is difficult to determine whom you call trust. When you have police working for the Zetas at night and on weekends, as well as attorneys and judges on the payroll of either the Gulf Cartel or the Zetas, there is no place Mexican citizens can go to report a threat, kidnapping, or theft. Police officers and police chiefs have resigned as a result of the pressure; in Ciudad Juarez--which is across the bridge from El Paso--drug traffickers decided that the Chief of Police must be removed from his position of power, so they threatened to kill a police officer every 48 hours until he resigned. As the body count grew to over six officers, the Chief resigned (Lacey, 2009).

Given the growing violence, American colleges have issued warnings to their students, urging them to stay out of Mexico for Spring Break. There have been a number of warnings issued flora different U.S. companies, like the American Automobile Association and the U.S. State Department. Recent confrontations between the Mexican army and police forces and the drug cartels resembled small-unit combat:

... with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in towns and cities ... and during some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. (Navarerette, 2009)

This has led to many people suggesting that Mexico is a "failed state."

This war brings crimes of drug abuse, money laundering, kidnapping, torture, confinement in prison until a ransom is paid, and human smuggling. According to the Chair of the Department of Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies at Arizona State University Carlos Velez-Ibanez:

This used to be a family business. The coyote and the migrant were from the same town; they were connected.... Now, because of the so-called security needs of the border, what's been created is this structure of smuggling in the hands of really nasty people who only treat the migrant as a commodity. (as cited in Francis, 2008)

According to law enforcement officials like U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Special Agent Joe Romero, these drug cartels "have even merged human smuggling with drug trafficking, forcing immigrants to act as 'mules' in transporting drugs as the price of passage" (Francis, 2008).

Human trafficking has also included kidnapping women to serve as sex slaves. Everyone remembers the ever-changing story of Natalee Ann Holloway who disappeared on May 30, 2005, while celebrating her high school graduation on the island of Aruba, a Caribbean county within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Not long ago the case went from a homicide to a sex-slave case. There was a case in Eagle Pass where a boyfriend was used to take a high-school junior girl to Piedras Negras. The girl was rescued only because her family used their connections in the Zeta organization to win her release.

How does this affect mental health providers?

There is a growing need for social workers, educators, substance abuse counselors, programs, and for more psychotherapists to work with individuals and families affected by this war. The border is not safe for anyone; therefore, an increase in security is necessary for the protection of the thousands of families affected on both sides of the border and into the United States. There is a definite need to change immigration polices in order to speed up the process, as well as a need for immigration and deportation judges to stop tearing families apart in America by deporting a member to Mexico.

My practice has seen a growing number of families who have lost loved ones to this war. One case in particular exemplifies the current situation and involves an American citizen who is in her 40s, living part time in Piedras Negras and part time in Eagle Pass. She has two children, one in high school and one in 6th grade. The father is a Mexican citizen who had a business and traveled between both countries frequently. One evening the family was in their home in Mexico when a group of men dressed in military-type uniforms forced their way into the home and dragged the man away. The mother and young daughter were held at gunpoint and told to keep quiet and stay in the house; that was the last time they ever heard or saw him. Three months passed and the woman decided that she was going to sell the house; to do this she had to have an attorney sign the paperwork. While waiting for the paperwork to be signed, she was approached by a man who said, "You owe us $2,000. If you ever want to see your cousin again you must pay us in 30 days." When she protested, the man said they knew she had a lot of collateral (meaning her house and other items) and she could easily get the money. Her cousin, who had accompanied her to court, was taken away and put in prison. After the 30 days passed, she paid the money but has yet to hear about her cousin or her husband. Now the woman has taken her children out of school and moved up north with other relatives where she can feel safer.

This is not the only case families have brought to me. Most of them either pay or move out of the state. There have been stories of families receiving a finger of a loved one with a reminder of their obligation to pay; paying is seldom rewarded with a live body:

Another case involved a mother of two children, ages 5 and 9, who had entered the United States 10 years earlier by swimming across the Rio Grande to marry the man she had fallen in love with. She had never committed any crimes, had been a good citizen, and had started her own business to help her family financially while her disabled husband was unemployed; however, she had never completed all the paperwork necessary to obtain legal status. To argue against her deportation, the defense needed to prove that her absence would result in an "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" for her family members.

The phrase "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" was developed by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). To argue for qualification of this act, the defendant must establish that he/she,

has been continuously present in the U.S. for ten years, has been a person of good moral character throughout that period, and that his/her removal would result in an exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his/her legally resident parent, spouse, or child. Hardship to the person in proceedings is no longer relevant. (Hanlon Law Group, P.C., 2009)

In this case it was argued that Mexico is in such a state of war that women and children are vulnerable to kidnapping, torture, and death if caught by one of the Zeta gangs that roam the streets of border communities. The judge ruled that he didn't believe that the family qualified for this exception, but he did allow the lady to appeal his decision. In the meantime, she and her family have completed the necessary paperwork to earn her legal status and are waiting for the appeals and the paperwork process.

A faster process and safer option for families is needed now. Some judges have allowed for exceptions to this rule, yet to this date not all judges recognize the seriousness of the war in Mexico. Mental health providers need to recognize this problem and work to help families across the United States prepare for court. There are ethical and moral issues at stake here, and complacency is not an option. The policies and procedures of our legal system need to change to fit the values of out society.


Francis, D. (2008, March 31). Mexican drug cartels move into human smuggling. Chronicle Foreign Service. Retrieved March 13, 2009, from http://www. sfgate.com/cgi-bin/artide.cgi?f/c/a/2008/03/31/MN-8MV94C7.DTL

Hanlon Law Group, P.C. (2009). What is 'exceptional and extremely unusual hardship'? Hanlon Law Group, P.C. Retrieved December 23, 2008, from http://www.visaandgreencard.com/CM/Articles/ ExceptionaLAndExtremelyUnusualHardship.asp

Hawley, C. (2008, April 21). Mexican soldiers recruited to be drug carters hitmen. AZCentral. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/ articles/0421zetas0421.hind

Lacey, M. (2009, March 1). With force, Mexican drug cartels get their way. The New York Times Retrieved March 15, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/world/americas/01juarez.html

Lavandera, E. (2009, March 12).Police: U.S. teens were hitmen for mexican cartel. CNN. Retrieved March 15, 2009, http://from www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/03/12/cartel.teens/index.html

Navarrette. R. (2009, February 27). Commentary: What Mexico's drug war means for U.S. CNN. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/27/navarrette.mexico/index.html

Roig-Franzia, M. (2007, September 21). Mexican drug cartels deal all over U.S. Washington Post Retrieved March 15, 2009, from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi- bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/09/21/MN38SA308.DTL

By Ronald Hixson, PhD, MBA, LPC, LMFT, DAPA, BCPC

Ronald Hixson, PhD, BCPC, MBA, LPC, LMFT, DAPA, has been a therapist for more than 25 years. He has a Texas corporation private practice and has founded a non-profit group mental health organization where he serves as President/Executive Director. He has a PhD in Health Administration from Kennedy-Western University, an MBA from Webster University, and graduate degrees from the University of Northern Colorado and the University of California (Sacramento).
... the amount of drugs flowing through
   Mexico is growing rapidly; spurred by
   growing demand in the United States,
   where 35 million people abuse illegal
   drugs. Methamphetamines appear to be the
   fastest-growing drug crossing the border.
   Though no one is sure how much methamphetamine
   reaches the United States,
   seizures along tire border rose from 500 kilograms
   in 2000 to 2,700 in 2006, indicating
   a dramatic rise in supply. (2007)
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