Jason Beaubien
July 8, 2011

For many migrants trying to reach the U.S. from Mexico, the border region is a terrifying, lawless place, and their fear is often justified. Things are so bad in Matamoros, a border city just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, that last month the city’s police were stripped of their weapons, ordered off the streets and replaced by soldiers.

Gang members openly sell pirated gasoline that they’ve stolen from government pipelines, and lookouts for the drug cartels monitor the south bank of the Rio Grande to make sure no one tries to swim across who hasn’t paid for the privilege.

While the overall number of migrants trying to cross illegally into the U.S. has dropped dramatically over the past few years, the trip has grown more dangerous, as some of Mexico’s most brutal drug cartels now earn millions of dollars each year from the extortion and smuggling of migrants. Last year, hundreds of migrants went missing or were killed in Mexico, and more than 20,000 were kidnapped.

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