Mexicans lived in America before many territories became states. Indeed, a large chunk of our country was once their country. Today, Mexican immigrants are part of the fabric of this nation. Yet there is now fervor to drive immigrants out - almost at all costs.

What part of illegal don’t you understand?

Arizona, ground zero for the so-called immigration problem in America, has passed a law requiring the police to stop anyone they think might be here illegally and force production of proof of citizenship. This puts the yoke of suspicion upon all with brown skin, including Americans. Other states are considering similar legislation.

President Obama dutifully responded by putting immigration policy upon the national agenda.

Village Voice Media, in a national series, is telling the stories of Hispanics amongst us, the struggle they face, the groundswell of anti-immigrant sentiment, and the problems that drive immigration from the south.

The project examines the consequences when federal authorities lack a coherent immigration policy.

Driving on a cold desert night to a small farming community along the Rio Grande where hit men had gunned down a man who stopped to buy a beer, the convoy of local crime photographers snapped away at a soldier manning a checkpoint. He was wearing a skeleton mask, a "mask of death,'' as he pulled over drivers deemed suspicious and who could be carrying drugs or guns. The soldiers were guarding a main highway outside Ciudad Juárez that leads to communal farming communities that mostly grow cotton and alfalfa along the river.

"He's just being a jerk," one photographer for the Diario de Juárez newspaper said of the masked soldier. "A lot of them do it."

It was a busy night but not unlike others in this dirt-road agricultural region, now known as one of the deadliest places in the world. It's an area where journalists barely venture and where politicians running for local offices are threatened into abandoning their aspirations.

Earlier that evening, the reporters and photographers who cover the city zipped to the international airport, where several hundred passengers had been evacuated following the week's third bomb scare. When it turned out to be a false alarm—nerves are jittery—the journalists flocked to their parked cars.

Police scanners told of an "executed" man in the Loma Blanca neighborhood in the Valley of Juárez, the porous stretch of land southeast of Juárez that extends somewhat sleepily for 50 miles along the Texas border and has historically been a haven for contraband and illegal immigration.

Normally, the journalists would have sped to the area and tried to scoop their colleagues for the story. But these aren't normal times. Instead, they organized themselves in a caravan and drove to the scene, keeping track of each other via cellular phones.

"We never go alone to a crime scene anymore. It's too dangerous. This way, if something happens to you, at least there are witnesses," said one veteran photographer of his beat recording the daily carnage of drug violence in Juárez and its environs. "Yes, we're scared, but we try to be careful."

When they arrived at the dusty neighborhood, dozens of people had come out of their homes, and police and soldiers had cordoned off a corner street. The only sound heard was the crying of women and babies. Underneath the yellow light of a Carta Blanca sign outside a small grocery store called La Consentida lay the body of Rogelio Ituarte de la Hoya, a 37-year-old father of five children.

"Why? Why?" wailed his mother, Ana Lozano, a retired maid who lives in El Paso, as relatives hugged and consoled her. "These murders are happening every day and no one does anything. My son was innocent. He didn't have anything to do with drugs!"

An eerie doom hangs over this ghostly border city, militarized by 4,500 soldiers and up to 5,000 federal police since 2008, and the soldier wearing the black-and-white skeleton mask at one of dozens of checkpoints erected throughout Juárez probably had a warped sense of humor. But it's symbolic of the escalating bloodshed witnessed every day, anywhere, at any time.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón deployed the military and federal police in 2008 across northern Mexico to halt violence among warring cartels, the deaths have mounted, and locals see a correlation.

By far, Ciudad Juárez has experienced the most violence, skyrocketing to about 5,060 murders in a little more than two years, and more than 700 from January through April alone. This compares with about 600 murders attributed to drug violence from 2006 to 2008. The Mexican government estimates 22,700 people have died in drug-related crimes across Mexico since 2006, when Calderón took office.

It's hard to keep up, but on any given day, between three and 12 people, including men, women and children, are gunned down or show up dead on streets or in ditches, sometimes hanging from a bridge, sometimes floating on the Rio Grande or nearby creeks. Many are involved in organized crime, but many are innocent. There seems to be no safe haven. People are killed in clinics, hospitals, funeral homes, shopping malls and baseball games.

"The violence is unprecedented. Never in the history of Mexico has the government lost such capacity to govern. So far this year, the homicide rate in the Juárez Valley is about 1,260 per 100,000 inhabitants," says Chihuahua state human rights representative and attorney Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson. "This murder rate is only found on the battlefields of open warfare and could qualify as genocide."

The warfare is between the Juárez Cartel, headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, and the Sinaloa Cartel, run by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Although both are fugitives, they still run the show. In the past two years, however, Guzman has so far successfully encroached on Carrillo's turf, unleashing gang violence for the control of the opium trade as well as the marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines pouring into the United States. Between 40 and 60 percent of Mexico's illegal drugs are smuggled across a 300-mile route that stretches from New Mexico to Texas, including the Big Bend National Park.

Even as violence spreads and mounts across neighboring border states, including the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico's industrial and economic hub, Juárez is ground zero for Calderón's "Joint Operation Chihuahua," which allowed for deployment of the military and federal police.

Calderón's lack of success, highlighted by the March 13 murders a few feet from an international bridge to El Paso of three people linked to the U.S. consulate, has prompted a revision of the United States' so-called "Merida Initiative." Under this plan, the Bush administration had earmarked $1.3 billion for Mexico to fight organized crime, including money for intelligence and aircraft equipment for the country's military and police forces.

The consulate killings brought a high-powered U.S. delegation to Mexico City on March 24. It was led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who told the media that Mexico's military efforts were failing and there was fear of violence spilling across the U.S. border. The meeting with Calderón and top Mexican security and government leaders brought about a revision of the Merida Plan that signaled a move away from the military emphasis to one geared toward social efforts to fight the crime.

Among the new measures revealed last month, Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa announced a $331 million plan, part of the second phase of the initiative, to redirect the military spending toward social and educational youth programs and improved police training. There's also talk of creating a 10-mile cross-border commuter trail to link El Paso and Juárez, a secure mass transit system for business much like one in Baghdad's Green Zone, in many European nations and in Seattle-Vancouver. But it's too early to tell if it will work, and there's skepticism.

"In the short term, I don't see an option unless you legalize narcotics, but that won't happen quickly," said Jorge Chabat, a narcotics and national security expert and professor in Mexico City's Center for Research and Economic Teaching. "The likeliest scenario is that the violence continues and increasingly affects the U.S., like the violence during Prohibition in the 1930s, which led to the legalization of alcohol. It's an option to solve corruption and violence, not to end drug consumption."

Ciudad Juárez, named after Mexico's only indigenous president, Benito Juárez, was founded in 1659 by Spanish explorers as El Paso del Norte, or the pass to the north. Until recently, it was choked with traffic from trucks and people going about the business that is just part of daily life in neighboring Texas and Mexican cities. People normally go back and forth across international bridges, seeing relatives, shopping or working. Juárez and El Paso make up for one of the largest binational metropolitan areas in the world, together comprising 2.3 million people.

But the lifeline of this symbiotic relationship has now turned into a multibillion dollar key passage of drugs to the United States, and it's bearing the brunt of the impunity, brutality and inhumanity as the cartels battle for control of the illegal drug market to the States as well as the smuggling of high-powered weapons from Texas to Mexico.

"I was born in El Paso, but I live in Juárez because I was married to a Mexican. It was a good life, to be honest. My kids had nannies. I had household help, and we traveled to the interior of Mexico and had lots of fun," said one woman, who like most people interviewed didn't want her name used. "A year ago, I moved to El Paso and stopped going to Juárez. The violence is incredible. We're afraid."

Indeed, the violence for control of the key U.S. smuggling routes likely surpasses the height of drug carnage in the late 1980s in Colombia, where drug baron Pablo Escobar was viewed by many who protected him as a sort of Robin Hood who built hospitals, schools, soccer stadiums and apartments for the poor in his hometown of Medellin. But Juárez has no good guys helping the locals.

The code of mafia honor in which women, children, friends of friends or relatives of enemies went untouched has been abandoned in recent years.

"We live in terror that one day it will be me, or my daughters. You could be walking next to someone the narcos want, and they shoot you for the hell of it. Now the military and the federal police occupy the city. We don't know who's who. We don't trust anyone," said one man who moonlights as a chauffer for the U.S. consulate. Like others, he has seen headless bodies hanging from bridges and lifeless bodies strewn on streets.

"If I see something suspicious, I look away, because they'll come after me or someone I love. They know your license plates. They follow you. They know where you work and where your children go to school," he added.

Cocaine is smuggled from Colombia across Mexico's southern border and eventually into border cities. But Mexico also grows most of the marijuana and a small percentage of opium poppy for heroin sold in the United States. It also leads in crack cocaine production. The farming villages nestled along the Sierra Madre mountain range along the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua are known as the Golden Triangle of marijuana growth.

Mexican reports say that in 2004, a truce was broken between Carrillo Fuentes, nicknamed The Viceroy, and "Chapo" Guzman, the most wanted man in Mexico, who's listed as the 701st richest man in the world by Forbes, following the murders of close relatives on each side.

Tensions escalated and finally broke the two families' ties in 2008 when an old powerful drug ally of the Sinaloa Cartel, led by two brothers named Beltran Leyva, aligned with the Juárez mafia, unleashing the current marijuana smuggling bloodshed. The two cartels have "sicarios," or death squads, and gangs working for and protecting them. Gangs called the Artist Assassins and the Mexicles, thought to number about 2,000 members, work for the Sinaloa Cartel. Meanwhile, the Barrio Aztecas, born out of the Texas prison system, and La Linea are aligned with the Juárez Cartel.

Many are trained hit men, while many are kids between the ages of 14 and 18, who are unemployed, uneducated and are hired for as little as $40 to $80 to kill.

Now the Zetas, the elite government forces who defected from the military around 2005 and joined the Gulf Cartel, operating out of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros just south of Texas, have apparently gotten so strong they have formed their own deadly mafia, adding to the cauldron of violence and sinister players of Juárez.

"What we lack is an ability to fully investigate. We sent in the military without proper intelligence, a folly in any war," said attorney and investigator De la Rosa. "So we don't know exactly which social group is suffering this genocide, who is killing them and what is the motivation."

Many residents here say they were initially happy when the army came to Juárez. They thought it would put a lid on the violence, but within a month, they say, it was obvious the military couldn't—or wouldn't—do anything. In fact, murders doubled.

"The army brought all of its bad habits to Juárez: extortions, kidnappings, torture," said Javier Cordona, 22, as he sat with gloomy friends outside the packed Jardin Funeral Home in downtown, where reporters had amassed following a rumor that one of the consulate murder victims was being taken there.

"You know what the worst thing is about all this? It's that it's become normal," said a 21-year-old friend, who didn't want his name used. He said that in September five of his friends were killed by gangs. "I think one of them may have had something to do with crime, but not the rest of them. The thing is...we don't know who's who. You may be standing next to someone or know somebody who knows somebody, and you're dead. We don't know who to trust."

Mexico's soldiers and police are traditionally underpaid, and except for those with specialized training in the high ranks, lower-class citizens seeking a way out of poverty man the front lines.

"The Americans send money to fight the narcos but they don't pay us well," said one federal police sergeant sent to Juárez as part of Calderón's operation. He was manning a barricade during a presidential visit in early March. With fear in his eyes, he chased a foreign journalist and told his story, hiding behind a bush. Around him, security for the Calderón visit was unprecedented, paralyzing Juárez for hours. Residents moaned and joked that it would be the only time cartel gangs would keep a low profile, and indeed, there were no killings reported in about six hours.

"I'm here to speak on behalf of my colleagues," said the officer. "We only make about $200 a week, and in the two years we've been here, we've only gotten one uniform and one pair of boots. People in Juárez say we're not doing anything, but it's not true. We're supposed to go where we want, but we don't have good intelligence. We don't have confidence in our leaders. I think you ought to investigate the army chiefs. In the high ranks, they are corrupt. They tell us not to go into this sector or that sector. They say 'Don't touch.'"

Traditionally, Mexico's military is a don't-touch zone. Attorney De la Rosa, 64, the legal scholar who ran the Chihuahua state prison system, is a veteran of human rights legal battles, including against the military death squads called the White Brigades in the 1960s.

Since 2008, De la Rosa had documented 170 cases of soldiers kidnapping, torturing and extorting innocent people. In October 2009, he fled the city after several threats against his life, including an unloaded gun pointed at his head.

"In every sense of the legal term, under the constitution, this was military coup. We are under an occupation," said De la Rosa, who reports to the state attorney general.

De la Rosa said General Felipe de Jesus Espidia, commander of the 5th Military Command overseeing operations in Juárez, told him to drop the cases against his troops. He refused and after that, he said, threats against him ensued.

"It was probably someone I named in my lawsuits, but I don't know. The military and the priesthood—it's impossible to win against them. One has the power of the nation, the other the power of God," said De la Rosa, who is a symbol of human rights in Juárez and is nicknamed Santa Claus for his long white hair and beard. "But I am like a boxer in the fifth round, I'm not done fighting."

De la Rosa, who has resolved dozens of cases of illegal military detentions since 2008, didn't take the threats, including telephone calls and being followed into gas station bathrooms and accused of being in cohorts with traffickers, all that seriously. But in August, one of his bodyguards was detained, held overnight and tortured by the army.

He wrote a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking help. De la Rosa lived in the Valley of Juárez, in the neighborhood of San Isidro, now mostly deserted after many of his neighbors fled.

The last straw came in October, he said, when state Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez called "to tell me they could no longer protect me, that I was going to get killed and to leave Juárez immediately. I think, honestly, they were being nice and warning me.

"But I knew then I was completely alone, that I had no institutional support at all," he said.

On October 15, De la Rosa drove across the bridge to El Paso where there was an alert for his car's license plates at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. U.S. authorities urged him to seek political asylum to ensure his safety, but he refused. He now lives in a small house in the outskirts of El Paso on a six-month tourist visa that expires in May. Meanwhile, talks with the military and state officials have allowed for his return to work in Juárez, and his office was moved inside the attorney general's office.

"I continue working for the people of Juárez. I can't leave the city to the hands of delinquents," he said. "I have to fight for the rule of law, or otherwise we will have another revolution."

De la Rosa became a human rights activist in the 1960s at the height of the country's "dirty war" in which leftist dissidents were disappeared and tortured. He won cases against the White Brigades, the military secret operatives similar to other armed forces that left tens of thousands dead in Argentina, Chile and Brazil at the time.

Under Joint Operation Chihuahua, the military has had legal authority to detain suspects. It's a murky line easily crossed in a city where anyone is suspect. In Mexico, human rights violations reportedly committed by soldiers are usually investigated by the military itself, and most go untried.

By the same token, army and federal troops are also targets of attacks by organized crime and gangs. International human rights organizations say more than 80 soldiers have been killed since 2008. Observers say it's a war of unseen fighters.

"The cartels don't act like a regular army but like guerrillas, and the proportions aren't one-to-one because the army doesn't know where and when the narcos are going to attack," said drug investigator Chabat. "There's inefficiency and corruption at all levels. The government doesn't think it has another option besides military force. But the resources are limited. Clearly it's not working."

The bloodshed has prompted all sorts of comparisons to recent history—that Mexico hasn't seen this much disdain for a government since the 1910 Mexican Revolution against dictator Porfirio Diaz and that its violence is reminiscent to the 1930s mafia wars during Prohibition in the United States. But by body count, Juárez has likely surpassed Prohibition's bootlegging bloodshed.

"We're missing the boat here in the U.S. We're at the front line of a war and Americans think it's an abstraction," said El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke, 37, who leads the charge locally to legalize marijuana. "The war on drugs has been an abject, miserable failure. The narcos aren't making a political statement. This isn't the FARC in Colombia...It's pure economics and one way to stop this, at least some of it, is to legalize marijuana."

Juárez was a bustling city of 1.3 million that was the fourth economic power in Mexico. It saw a boom of U.S. manufacturing factories called maquiladoras that paid Mexican workers low wages, about $4 a day, after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

But now Juárez is emptying out, and up to 100,000 people are estimated to have fled.

"A lot of my friends and all of my relatives have moved to El Paso," said one woman, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "I have two nephews who are doctors in Juárez. They still have their business over there, but they boarded it up. One of them was assaulted three times in his office. The last time it was people with guns."

It's hard to find any local government presence; the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Jose Reyes Ferriz, runs his administration mostly from El Paso, residents say. He is a vehement supporter of the military presence in his city. In early March, a pig's head with a note reading "you're next," was found outside his Juárez residence.

"The army will remain in Juárez for the time being," he said at a news conference March 27. "It has done an excellent job and has controlled the delinquency rate, the robbery of banks and car thefts."

At this point, bank robberies and auto theft seem minor in a city where children can walk out the door any given day and see a bleeding body outside their homes. But it is the apparent policy the Mexican government, quite different from prior administrations, is intent on following for the near future.

"The White House thought the violence and corruption was a Mexican problem that wouldn't affect the United States," Chabat said. "And Mexico thought the consumption of drugs was a U.S. problem...Time has proven that both perceptions are erroneous, and whether we like it or not, the phenomenon of drug trafficking must be confronted by both governments. If we don't, the chaos will overpower both nations."

It's certainly overpowering Juárez, rapidly becoming a dilapidated, lawless city where only those who don't have other options stay. Many of the poor who came in droves during the maquiladora boom are returning to the southern states where they came from. The Juárez business group called Coparmex estimates about 40 of the 300 or so factories have shut down in the past two years, costing thousands of jobs.

The Juárez Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, estimates 10,000 businesses have been forced to close. Many owners can't pay or refuse to pay the bribes that gangs demand for protection. Dozens of businessmen have been kidnapped for ransom and countless businesses have been torched, leaving central shopping centers empty and boarded up. The once-popular discotheque Broncos and Cowgirls was burned down a few months ago by extortionists, and the surrounding shopping mall in Plaza las Americas has few cars in its parking lots.

In the Plaza de las Armas, the once-bustling plaza that thrived selling blankets and silver to American tourists, has disappeared. Although locals still go there to sell hot dogs or get their shoes shined for a semblance of normalcy, it empties out in the afternoon after people return from work.

"There are less people in the plazas, in all public areas, hotels, dance halls, shops. A lot of people are imprisoned in their homes," said the Reverend Carlos Reza, 32, a priest in the city's main cathedral. Reza tells his flock in sermons that what is happening in Juárez is similar to the persecutions of early Christians and Israelites, meaning this too shall pass.

High unemployment and lack of education among those 18 to 25 years of age—the age group that comprises around 40 percent of the population in Juárez—has clearly fed criminal activity and crimes of opportunity, but so have low wages of about $5 a day, a rate that has gone up only about $1 since NAFTA went into effect, fueling an underground drug economy that's attractive to the young and poor with no other options to make a living.

"We have watched with mounting distress as the narcos become more powerful. They are lawless. They are terrorists. They control the Mexican side of the border," said Alejandro Junco, owner of Grupo Reforma, the largest newspaper company in Latin America, speaking at World Affairs Council luncheon in San Antonio on March 25.

"The rule of law in our democracy hangs by a thread. Those who are not corrupted cannot contain the lawlessness.

"The reason so many young men join the bloodstained hands is they would rather live one week like a king than endure a life of misery for 70 years. Our sad reality is that if you are born poor, and you don't leave the country, poverty is your destiny if you don't become a hit man."

Junco, 61, employs some 4,000 Mexican reporters and most wear bulletproof vests. Like other Mexican newspapers, Junco's dailies of Reforma, El Nortein Monterrey and Mural in Guadalajara have forgone bylines in drug stories.

Junco himself has been the target of death threats and, like prominent figures who speak out, he says he has lost faith in the Mexican government. He spends much of his time in Austin.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission reports 60 deaths and 11 disappearances of journalists in the country since 2000. But this year, six journalists were killed and five kidnapped reporters are still missing.

The daily violence that Juárez endured almost unnoticed for nearly two years gained international attention when three people linked to the U.S. consulate, two of them Americans, were gunned down March 13, about 2:30 p.m. in what appeared to be two different coordinated attacks.

Lesley Ann Enriquez, a pregnant employee of the U.S. consulate, was leaving a children's consulate party with her husband, Arthur Redelfs, a corrections officer with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, and their 3-month-old daughter when their white Toyota was intercepted a few meters from the Santa Fe Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting to El Paso and the site of a military camp.

Almost at the same time, after leaving the same party, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniseros, the 37-year-old husband of another U.S. consulate worker, was driving in his SUV with his children, ages 2, 4 and 7, when gunmen opened fire and killed him instantly. Salcido was a production manager of the Dallas-based technology and outsourcing company Affiliated Computer Services Inc.

The killings brought an outcry of condemnation by the United States, including President Obama.

Mexican authorities theorized that the Aztecas, which also operate in other U.S. cities besides El Paso, including Dallas and Austin, as well as in New Mexico and Arizona, are responsible for these killings, and one gang member has been arrested.

The consulate-related killings could have been random, but they came after published reports that U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI, would embed with Mexican police forces to train, advise and even supervise as part of the Merida Initiative that President Bush signed with the Calderón administration.

In Juárez, many saw a direct link between the murders and the reports of increased U.S. intervention in Mexican security matters, an affront to Mexico's sovereignty that could spawn a "narco patriotism" war, much as Colombia saw when the United States announced in the late 1980s it would extradite captured drug leaders.

"There has been such a weakening of the government's power to govern that they have to accept foreign intervention," said De la Rosa. "The narcos sent a message written in blood to Obama, and it said. 'You mess with us, and you will pay for it.'"

Among the greatest tragedies in a city of tragedy are the continuing deaths, disappearances, torture and mutilations of women that gained international attention more than a decade ago.

In 1993, the Mexican attorney general began counting the murder of women as separate crimes, or "femicides." The women, most factory workers, were turning up dead by the dozen, raped, mutilated and dumped in empty lots. From 1993-2007, more than 700 "femicide" cases were documented. In 2008, there were 87 cases, 164 in 2009 and 43 so far in 2010, according to human rights observers.

"The government is not listening to those of us who work in human rights. The disappearances and murder of women has now gotten lumped into the drug war statistics, and it's no longer a separate crime," said Irma Guadalupe Casas, director of the Casa Amiga Crisis Center in Juárez, a non-profit center that shelters women and provides legal, medical and psychological services.

Casa lawyer Brenda Lara said she's seeing women seeking shelter who are victims of domestic violence, many including wives or girlfriends of drug gangs.

"'I will kill you and nothing will happen.'...That's what their boyfriends say," said Lara, citing a 40 percent increase in women descending on the center to seek refuge and escape. "And it's true. Nothing will happen if they kill them."

Until lately, what little attention has been paid to the slaughter in Juárez has come in part from the indefatigable efforts of a librarian at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. With her daily posts of up to a half dozen articles and bulletins on the Frontier News Wire, and her constant updating of the death toll, Molly Molloy has emerged as the de facto record keeper of the violence.

Daily, she scours the local press, analyzes, compares, checks and rechecks her figures.

In her constant stream of posts, Molloy regularly critiques and challenges news articles and official announcements that don't pass the smell test.

"I began to pay close attention to the numbers of murders in Juárez in the early part of 2008. More than 40 people were killed in the month of January and this had never been seen before in the city," she says. Her research became part of the book Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields by Charles Bowden.

"There is ample evidence that people are targeted and murdered for many known and unknown reasons and that the killings have only continued to increase since the army first arrived in force in Juárez," she said. "Evidence of guilt is seldom, if ever, provided...The huge majority of victims are poor people."

Many in Juárez think they've been forsaken, that the government is letting the violence play out until a cartel winner emerges. Mexico ended 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) when Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, won the presidency under the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, in 2000. Mexicans viewed this election as the country's first democratic balloting, and there was hope that with it, corruption would decline and rule of law would materialize.

Calderón maintains most of the murders are related to cartel violence, that about 5 percent are innocent or bystanders. When answering questions from the public or media about the success of his strategy, the president insists it's a problem of "perception."

"We all have to work on the image of Mexico and the perception of the violence," is an oft-repeated answer.

Calderón won in 2006 in a highly contested election, and when his term ends in 2012, Mexicans could opt to return to PRI rule, when a policy of criminal tolerance reined in drug violence. The question is what role the U.S. government will play in a nation averse to foreign intervention.

"The consulate killings put Mexico drug violence higher up on the U.S. agenda. But will this be enough to change the bleak panorama for both nations?" Chabat asked. "The truth is not clear, at least in the short term. How long can Mexican people and even the U.S. government endure this violence?"

In the meantime, the people of Juárez are trapped.

"We lock ourselves up," said the U.S. consulate driver. "And at night, we dream of the dead."

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