Driving down a dusty road separating Mexico from El Paso, Texas, U.S. border agent Jose Romero stops to question two teenage Mexican boys. They're standing underneath a low-hanging bridge over the Rio Grande. They tell Romero they're fishing. He doubts their story, but continues on.
More of a concern to border agents these days is the violence in Juarez, just down the road.
"A year ago, six months ago, it was almost shocking to hear of all the violence — to see it," he said. "We could see the bodies. We had individuals bound, ready to be executed, and they managed to get away and cross the river and ask our agents for protection. This is a very real war."
A shelter for U.S. border guards is riddled with bullet holes from Juarez gang members, taking aim from across the border.
(CBS/Cami McCormick )
The town itself was seeing as many as eight murders every day, and increasing concern the violence would spread. Then, weeks ago, Mexican troops surged into Juarez under the orders of President Felipe Calderon.
Romero stops at one spot along the Rio Grande and points out soldiers just across the river. They are well-armed and manning police vehicles, perhaps to re-instill confidence in the Mexican population in the nation's security forces. The police in Juarez were notoriously corrupt, paid-off by drug cartels. Now they've been disarmed by Mexican soldiers.
At left, a Mexican marine stands guard along the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, March 18, 2009.
(AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)
Meanwhile, the U.S. has increased the number of border agents here and they've been trained, Romero says, to deal with the possibility that the violence in Juarez could escalate.
But, for now, the Mexican surge appears to be working. There are fewer murders in Juarez, and U.S. agents are seizing fewer drugs crossing the border.
Still, ask most people here whether they think the peace will hold and they simply shake their heads. Some speculate the drug cartels may have called a ceasefire among themselves, only to prepare for all-out war on these Mexican security forces.
"At this point it seems the Mexican government has a foothold," Romero says, "but can it last? I just don't know. We're crossing our fingers."