“With such an intense media spotlight, it is extremely toxic for the major cartels or the gangs to be involved with it—from a kidnapping of some of its members or extortion perspective,” said Robert J. Bunker, an adjunct research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College.
“Still, the weaker members of the various caravans and their stragglers are going to be shaken down or picked off as targets of opportunity from time-to-time.”
Cartels control the trafficking routes throughout Mexico and the entry points, or plazas, into the United States, according to Sheriff Andy Louderback of Jackson County, Texas.
“Every day, every minute, some penetration of the Texas border, California border, New Mexico border, Arizona border—every minute, someone is preparing to send a load in, or traffic humans in, or some type of criminal activity is going on,” Louderback said in a previous interview. “Every minute of every day. That’s their job, that’s what they’re committed to do, that’s how they get paid. And that’s what we’re up against.”
Different cartels control different areas along the southwest border. For example, the Sinaloa Cartel is dominant in California and Arizona, whereas the Gulf Cartel reigns supreme in southeast Texas.
“[Cartels also] maintain drug distribution cells in designated cities across the United States that either report directly to TCO leaders in Mexico or indirectly through intermediaries,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2017 national drug threat assessment.
Bunker said on top of the media focus, the caravans are being monitored closely by various humanitarian non-governmental groups and “we can assume” both Mexican governmental and security, and some foreign state, agencies.
“If and when the caravan makes it to the U.S. border with Mexico, I don’t view the cartel plaza bosses as likely to directly confront it or impede its progress. This is a highly politicized international spectacle that is now playing out,” Bunker said.
“I think you may see ad hoc and disorganized or opportunistic criminality directed at some of its members, however, by low-level criminals or gang cliques but still this will only take place on the margins.”