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NDIC seal linked to Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Texas Drug Threat Assessment
October 2003



Map of  Texas showing major transportation routes.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

Texas is the second largest state in the country in terms of both population and land area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state has more than 21 million residents; 71.0 percent are Caucasian, 11.5 percent African American, 2.7 percent Asian, 0.6 percent American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 14.2 percent are another race or more than one race. Thirty-two percent of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin. The state encompasses a land area of approximately 261,914 square miles. It is composed of forests, mountains, deserts, dry plains, and humid, subtropical coastal lowlands.

Fast Facts
Population (2001) 21,325,018
U.S. population ranking 2nd
Median household income (2001) $40,860
Unemployment rate (Jan. 2003) 6.4%
Land area 261,914 square miles
Coastline 624 miles
International border 1,254 miles
Capital Austin
Other principal cities Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio
Number of counties 254
Principal industries Agriculture, construction, manufacturing, minerals (oil and gas), services, wholesale and retail trade

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Texas shares a 1,254-mile border with Mexico that follows the course of the Rio Grande River. This border area, a large portion of which is open and incapable of being continuously monitored by border enforcement agencies, is extensively used by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States. Significant quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are smuggled from Mexico into Texas. Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data indicate that the quantity of drugs seized by federal law enforcement officers in Texas, most of which is seized at or near the U.S.-Mexico border, consistently exceeds that of any other state in the nation. FDSS data indicate that in 2002, Texas ranked first in the country in the amount of cocaine and marijuana seized by federal officers, second in the amount of methamphetamine seized, and third in the amount of heroin seized. (See Table 1.) In 2002, 555,324 kilograms of marijuana were seized in Texas--more than were seized in all other states combined during that year.

Table 1. Federal Drug Seizures in Texas and Nationwide Ranking, 2002
  Kilograms Seized in Texas Seizure Ranking Nationwide
Marijuana 555,324 First
Cocaine 17,008 First
Methamphetamine 367 Second
Heroin 291 Third

Source: Federal-Wide Drug Seizure System.

There are 11 land ports of entry (POEs) along the Texas portion of the U.S.-Mexico border including, from west to east, El Paso, Fabens, Presidio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Laredo, Roma, Rio Grande City, Hidalgo, Progreso, and Brownsville. (See Figure 1.) In 2001 more than 20 million pedestrians, 51 million private vehicles, and nearly 3 million commercial trucks crossed into Texas from Mexico through these POEs. This volume of cross-border traffic facilitates illicit drug smuggling into and throughout the state.

Figure 1. The eleven land ports of entry between Texas and Mexico.

Map showing the locations of ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.

United States and Mexico residents traveling between the "sister cities" located along the U.S.-Mexico border add to the volume of cross-border traffic. (See Figure 2.) The sister cities in Texas and Mexico, from west to east are as follows: (the first city is in Texas, and the second is immediately across the border in Mexico) El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Presidio and Ojinaga, Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna, Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, McAllen and Reynosa, and Brownsville and Matamoros. Residents of the United States and Mexico frequently cross the border between sister cities on personal business, and a number of U.S. residents cross the border daily to work in maquiladora plants in northern Mexico. (See text box.) DTOs and criminal groups frequently attempt to conceal smuggling activities by crossing the border between these sister cities at peak traffic times.

Figure 2. "Sister cities" in the United States and Mexico.

 Map showing locations of "sister cities" in Texas and Mexico.

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Maquiladora Plants

Maquiladora plants, or maquiladoras, use duty-free materials and components from foreign suppliers to manufacture finished products such as electronics, textiles, and automobile parts that are returned to the foreign suppliers. If the finished products are exported from Mexico into the United States, duty is paid only on the products' value-added content. There are more than 3,200 maquiladoras in Mexico employing more than 1 million individuals. Most of these plants are located close to the border. The two maquiladoras with the largest number of employees are located in Ciudad Juarez (in Chihuahua) and Tijuana (in Baja California Norte). In 2001 the number of workers employed in these two plants accounted for 40 percent of the total Mexican maquiladora workforce.


Largely because of its multifaceted transportation infrastructure and its proximity to foreign production areas, Texas is a national distribution center for illicit drugs. Drug traffickers commonly use private vehicles and commercial trucks to smuggle illicit drugs into and through the state. DTOs and criminal groups generally use Interstates 10, 20, 25, 30, and 35, as well as U.S. Highways 59, 77, 83, and 281 as primary routes for transporting drugs throughout Texas and from Texas to other regions of the country. Interstate 10 spans the entire country, connecting Texas with Los Angeles, California, in the west and Jacksonville, Florida, in the east. Interstate 20, which splits from I-10 approximately 170 miles east of El Paso, provides a direct route through Dallas to Shreveport, Louisiana; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta, Georgia. The West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) has identified these cities as destinations for drugs transiting western Texas. Interstate 25, which splits from I-10 approximately 40 miles west of El Paso, provides a direct route to Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver, Colorado; and points north. Interstate 30 originates in Dallas and provides access to eastern and northern states via other major highways that frequently are used to transport drugs. Interstate 35 extends from Laredo, located along the U.S.-Mexico border, north through the United States to northern Minnesota near the U.S.-Canada border. US 77 begins in Brownsville and extends to Waco, terminating at I-35, while US 281 originates in McAllen, passes through San Antonio and ends at I-44 in Wichita Falls. US 59 is slated for transition to I-69. If all phases of construction continue as planned, this highway will extend from the U.S.-Mexico border at Laredo to the U.S.-Canada border at International Falls, Minnesota.

Seizures of illicit drugs and drug proceeds are common on Texas highways. According to data from Operations Pipeline and Convoy (see text box), in 2000 state and local law enforcement officers in Texas seized 66,248 kilograms of illicit substances from private and commercial vehicles traveling on Texas highways. Marijuana accounted for 63,514 kilograms of the illicit substances seized on Texas highways, and most of the highway drug interdictions occurred along I-10. In 2000 law enforcement officials throughout the country reporting to Operations Pipeline/Convoy also seized more than $15.8 million in U.S. currency destined for locations in Texas, including a seizure of $2.7 million from a tractor-trailer traveling on US 60 destined for El Paso. The largest Texas Highway Patrol currency seizure in 2002 occurred on November 15, when officers seized more than $3.2 million from a rental truck traveling on US 77 in San Patricio County.

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Texas has 21 international airports, which include the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the El Paso International Airport, and the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. There are also more than 1,800 commercial and private airports and hundreds of private airstrips in Texas. Drug traffickers often use these airports and airstrips to smuggle illicit drugs into the state. Moreover, traffickers establish clandestine airstrips on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border to further facilitate their drug smuggling efforts. The Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center (AMICC), which uses radar to track aircraft approaching the U.S.-Mexico border, reports that aircraft often fade from radar near the border and appear to land at airports, airfields, and remote locations in Mexico. Many fades are indicative of traffickers moving drugs to locations near the border and offloading the shipments into vehicles for smuggling overland into Texas. According to AMICC, drugs typically are seized by U.S. or Mexican authorities at or near the fade area within 72 hours after fade activity is noticed on radar. Occasionally, pilots land at remote locations in Texas, including abandoned airstrips or long stretches of highways.

Operations Pipeline, Convoy, and Jetway

Operation Pipeline is a national highway interdiction program supported by the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). Drug seizures from private vehicles are reported to Operation Pipeline primarily by state and local law enforcement agencies operating nationwide along the highways and interstates most frequently used to transport illegal drugs and drug proceeds.

Operation Convoy is an EPIC-supported highway interdiction program involving commercial vehicles. Drug seizures are reported to Operation Convoy by participating state and local law enforcement agencies that seize drugs from commercial vehicles along major U.S. highways.

Operation Jetway is an EPIC-supported domestic interdiction program. Drug seizures are reported to Operation Jetway by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies across the nation at airports, train stations, bus stations, package shipment facilities, U.S. Post Offices, and airport hotels and motels.

Commercial shipping is prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico, presenting an additional threat of drug smuggling to the state. The Port of Houston is Texas' principal port on the Gulf of Mexico and in 2000 ranked first nationally in volume of foreign trade. It also ranked first among the Gulf of Mexico ports in the number of processed shipping containers; more than 1,057,869 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container traffic were processed at the Port of Houston during 2001, a 9 percent increase from 1999 when 968,530 TEUs were processed. The Rio Grande River and Texas' Intracoastal Waterway also are vulnerable to drug trafficking. The Rio Grande flows for 1,885 miles from southwestern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. It passes through New Mexico and forms a natural boundary between Mexico and Texas. Traffickers often float bundles of marijuana across the river, or they walk, swim, or drive shipments across in low-water crossing areas. Texas' Intracoastal Waterway system extends 426 miles from Sabine Pass to the mouth of the Brownsville Ship Channel at Port Isabel, enabling traffickers to use small vessels and pleasure craft to transport illicit drugs into and from southern Texas.

Illicit drugs also are smuggled into and through Texas via commercial aircraft, buses, passenger trains, and package delivery services. Operation Jetway data (see text box) indicate that in 2000, law enforcement officers in Texas seized 12,341 kilograms of illicit substances that were transported (or intended for transport) aboard commercial aircraft, buses, trains, or via package delivery services. The amount of marijuana seized as part of Operation Jetway (11,659 kg) accounted for 94 percent of the illicit substances seized as part of the program in 2000.

Traffickers also smuggle illicit drugs by rail across the Texas portion of the U.S.-Mexico border; however, according to EPIC, the extent to which DTOs and criminal groups use railcars to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border is a significant intelligence gap. Northbound railcar crossings into Texas from Mexico increased 45 percent from 145,112 in 1997 to 211,023 in 2001. Moreover, there are five rail-only bridges along the Texas portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. These bridges, located at Brownsville, Eagle Pass, El Paso, Laredo, and Presidio, handle approximately 80 percent of the rail traffic that enters the United States from Mexico.

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Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the dominant transporters of illicit drugs into Texas. They also control the wholesale, midlevel, and retail distribution of drugs in the state. These DTOs and criminal groups use familial ties and extensive connections among organizations and groups to transport and distribute significant quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana throughout Texas. Various other DTOs, criminal groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), street gangs, prison gangs, and local independent dealers also transport significant quantities of illicit drugs into the state for distribution.

Public health data indicate that drug-related treatment admissions in Texas increased from 1998 through 2002. According to the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA), the number of adult (18 and over) drug-related treatment admissions (not including alcohol) to publicly funded facilities in the state increased from 22,049 in 1998 to 27,530 in 2002. Of the 27,530 adult admissions, 4,191 were for marijuana, 3,280 were for powdered cocaine, 8,984 were for crack, 3,186 were for amphetamine/methamphetamine, 5,127 were for heroin, 75 were for MDMA, and the remaining 2,687 admissions were for other illicit and licit drugs, not including alcohol.

Despite increased drug treatment admissions, survey data indicate that the percentage of Texas residents who reported having abused an illicit drug was lower than the percentage nationwide. According to combined data from the 1999 and the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 4.9 percent of Texas residents aged 12 and older reported having abused an illicit drug in the month prior to the survey, compared with 6.3 percent nationwide.

Drug-related crimes have increased in Texas. The number of arrests in the state for the possession or sale of illicit drugs increased from 1997 through 2001, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). In 1997 there were 9,414 arrests for the sale of illicit drugs and 88,932 arrests for the possession of illicit drugs. In 2001 there were 10,034 arrests for the sale of illicit drugs and 93,888 arrests for the possession of illicit drugs.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), in fiscal year (FY) 2001, 47 percent of the federal sentences in Texas were for drug-related offenses--higher than the national rate of 41 percent. Marijuana offenses accounted for the majority (64%) of the drug-related federal sentences in the state in FY2001.

Illicit drug abuse has a significant impact on the state's economy. According to estimates published by TCADA in January 2003, abuse of illicit drugs cost the state $9.5 billion in 2000. These costs include actual or estimated costs for drug treatment and care, reduced or lost productivity, crime, premature death, law enforcement, property damage, motor vehicle accidents, and social welfare administration costs.

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