Border Violence Spillover: A Growing, but Undefined Problem
In October 2010, the first Mexican cartel-related beheading occurred in the United States. Martin Alejandro Cota-Monroy was killed because he had stolen a 400-lb load of marijuana and lied to his bosses about it, claiming the US authorities had seized the dope. When they demanded the money he owed them, Cota-Monroy begged for time to repay, offering his house as collateral. When the PEI Estatales and Sinaloa Federation discovered he didn’t have the money and didn’t even own the house, they took their payment in flesh by sending in sleepers to befriend him and sever his head while he was in a drunken stupor.  This single act of violence—the first drug-related beheading ever known to have occurred in the United States—would significantly change our assessment of border violence “spillover.” Or would it?
In the days after Cota-Monroy’s beheading, news of the incident could only be found in local media outlets. About three weeks later, only two conservative national outlets were reporting on the killing and using the term “spillover violence” in their stories. Only when the Chandler Police Department’s report was released in early March 2011, making a definitive connection between the murder and a Mexican cartel, did more national news outlets come on board to report the story. Despite the shocking nature of this incident and what seems like a clear-cut example of transnational criminal organization (TCO) violence spilling over our southwest border, very few Americans outside of Arizona have ever heard of this story.
The problem with situations like this one is that there is no standardized definition of border violence spillover anywhere. This means that any government agency or sheriff’s office or police department can create their own definition and say whether or not they believe TCO-related violence is or isn’t spilling over the southwest border. They can also use these self-determined definitions to justify the allocation of (or skimping on) resources.
There have been many attempts to define border violence spillover. This is the currently accepted federal interagency definition used by the US Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice components since at least 2009: