Residents of a small Mexican border town under siege by at least one of the country’s most notorious drug cartels are fleeing into a tiny Texas community, which is on high alert and preparing for a surge of illegal immigrants should a street battle break out with another cartel – or if gunmen begin carrying out a threat to start killing the town’s children.
At least 30 residents of El Porvenir, located about four miles from the Texas border town of Fort Hancock, have crossed into the U.S. and asked for political asylum, telling authorities that they fear for their lives. Fort Hancock officials tell FoxNews.com that they consider the situation serious.
“We just got word that the cartel has threatened to kill children in schools across the border unless parents paid $5000 pesos,” said Mike Doyle, chief deputy sheriff of Hudspeth County. And that time might come sooner than later. Schools Superintendent Jose Franco said word has spread that everyone in the Mexican town must stay indoors while members of rival cartels prepare for a shootout.
“I may not be working in school that day. I may be working as a medic,” said Franco, who moonlights as an ambulance paramedic.
Franco also confirmed the ransom demand for students across the border, adding that some of his students had already paid the money to be left alone.
According to Doyle, the cartel posted signs in El Porvenir earlier in the month ordering people in the town of 10,000 “to get out or pay with blood.” He said he wasn’t sure of the deadline that was given. “We have heard anywhere from a week to 40 days,” he said.
Since then, Fort Hancock, population 1700, has been in the grip of fear. The school district has seen a rise in the number of enrolled students as families in Mexico send their children to live with relatives on the other side of the border.
The Fort Hancock high school, one secretary said, is preparing for more pupils and holding conferences with law enforcement on how to face the crisis. Franco says contingency plans are being drawn up in case the entire population of El Porvenir flees. “It is what we fear the most,” he said.
Doyle said his office is on “high alert.” So far there has been no violence on the U.S. side of the border, “but I have had a few Fort Hancock residents killed across the border,” he said.
A former law enforcement officer who lives in Fort Hancock and asked not to be named said the siege of El Porvenir is important because the town straddles one of the oldest, least defended smuggling routes on the Mexican border.
“It is one of the key staging areas for the cartel and has no fences," he said. "All they do is wait for shift change at the border posts and walk across. There is no obstruction to crossing the border here.”
And that, he said, “was the most likely cause of the violence 860 yards away.”
He said El Porvenir has been contested for some time, and machine gun fire is often heard coming from the town. “The mayor and his son were recently murdered,” he said. “They even have a pickup truck with a .50 caliber machine gun on top.”
While the problem has been seething for some time, it has finally gotten attention from both Washington and Austin. Last week Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered a multiagency task force to the area. Rep. Kay Granger, the area congresswoman, pushed through the sale of three helicopters to the Mexican government to monitor the area. And the local sheriff has shifted patrols to the area in the hopes of stemming any violence that might spread across the border.