Mexico's Drug War Enters New Deadly Phase

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Drug gangs are raiding small border towns near the United States' southwest borders and have even burned down a church.

Hundreds of Mexican families are fleeing the cotton-farming towns of the Juarez Valley, across Fort Hancock, TX, near the Panhandle.

Mexican drug cartels are using fear tactics to empty the entire area, in order to minimize interference to their operations.

They've burned down homes and even torched a Catholic Church on Good Friday.

"I had never lived through something like this. There have been executions and burnt out homes, but I never imagined they would burn down the church," Salvador Salgado, a local priest, said.

Wherever they strike, they leave notes ordering residents to leave.

One woman who did not want to be identified said, "When you go out to a store, you are already scared. We are here, in fear, every night. We spend every night worried. We barely sleep because we have to be looking out the window."

One 14-year-old boy chained the gate to his family's home as they prepared to drive off and leave everything behind for a new life in Texas.

The forced exodus appears to be the work of Mexico's most powerful drug organization, the Sinaloa Cartel.

The region is perfect for smugglers, with miles of dirt roads that federal police and soldiers seldom patrol. U.S. border officials say requests for asylum have increased.

All along the valley, burned-out concrete-block houses dot the roads.

Gunmen have warned government workers to stop plans for a new highway in the region.

Mexican soldiers and federal police have beefed up patrols after the church attack, but few residents seem to feel safer.

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