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Strategic Drug Threat Developments

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HIDTA Overview

The Chicago HIDTA region, composed of Cook, Grundy, Kendall, and Will Counties, comprises more than 6.1 million residents--nearly half of the population of Illinois.1 The Chicago metropolitan area is one of the nation's largest drug markets and a national-level distribution center for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana available in the Midwest and the eastern United States. Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago, is second only to Los Angeles County, California, as the most populated county in the United States. According to U.S. Census estimates, Kendall County and Will County are two of the fastest-growing counties in the United States; those populations have grown 77.5 percent and 34.1 percent, respectively, from 2000 through 2007.

The Chicago metropolitan area2 is densely populated and ethnically diverse, enabling members of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), criminal groups, and street gangs to assimilate within communities and conceal their drug trafficking activities. The Mexican community in Chicago, the second-largest of any metropolitan area in the United States, is experiencing substantial growth as a result of ongoing immigration and higher-than-average birth rates. Chicago also has the fifth-largest immigrant population among U.S. metropolitan areas, with approximately 1.4 million immigrants. The largest immigrant populations in the metropolitan area are from Mexico, Poland, and India, while the fastest-growing populations are from Ghana, Nigeria, Russia, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Although ethnic communities are typically concentrated in Cook County, suburban counties are also experiencing substantial growth in immigrant populations.

The region has a highly developed transportation infrastructure that facilitates the continuous movement of licit and illicit goods to and from the area. Chicago is one of the nation's largest trucking centers, principally because of the city's proximity to Interstates 55, 57, 80, 88, 90, and 94, which pass through the metropolitan area. (See Figure 1.) These major highways are frequently used by traffickers to transport illicit drugs to Chicago from Mexico and locations along the Southwest Border. Two major international airports, O'Hare and Midway, are located within the HIDTA region; they processed approximately 86 million passengers and approximately 1.4 million tons of cargo during 2008. These major airports are frequently used by traffickers to smuggle illicit drugs into the Chicago area. In addition, Chicago's train, bus, mail, and parcel delivery services are exploited by DTOs, criminal groups, and street gangs to transport drugs and drug proceeds to and from the region.


1. U.S. Census estimates indicate that approximately 47 percent of Illinois residents resided in the Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) region as of July 1, 2007, the most recent date for which data are available.
2. The Chicago metropolitan area includes Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties.

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