(WHAS11) - Until recent years, Kentucky wasn't a major destination for illegal immigrants.
Those who came here were mostly migrant workers or employees in the equestrian industry.
But a new wave of illegal immigrants has been arriving in recent years, and law enforcement agencies say many of these undocumented citizens are bringing with them drugs, gangs and violent crime.
Illegal immigrants arrive in Kentuckiana daily.
While most are here for a better life, police say others have direct ties to deadly gangs and even the Mexican mafia. Shelbyville looks like most small towns in Middle America.
A quaint downtown, a thriving farm community, and in general a good quality of life.
Hundreds of newcomers flock here each year, many from Mexico just like Juan Rodriguez.
Juan Rodriguez said, "I crossed the desert. I didn't drink water for many days. I was lost. I was by myself."
Rodriguez and his wife, who he met in Kentucky, came for one thing.
Rodriguez said, "We came here because we want to be better. Have a better life."
Shane Suttor is a Shelbyville city councilman. Sutter says a growing number of illegal aliens aren't here to share in the quality of life, but to threaten it.
Suttor said, "Being a farm community, obviously, that's what originally brought them here, working on the farms, working tobacco. But now, it's transcended more into the criminal element."< /p>
Police tell us that the Latin Kings, Surenos and MS-13 gangs, all with ties to the Mexican Mafia are operating criminal enterprises in Kentucky. Cells have been identified in Shelbyville, Louisville and Lexington. A narcotics officer told us some illegals have wired 15000 dollars a week for months to cartels in Mexico.
Shane Sutter said, "We don't have a swat team. We don't have a gang task force. We're just a small town."
Suttor says it's a small town preparing for a siege.
FBI agents tell us they have investigated reports of gang initiations involving murder.
The MS-13's weapon of choice? The machete.
The FBI has compared MS-13 to the old "Cosa nostra" or Italian Mafia. MS-13 is active in 42 states, including Indiana and Kentucky. MS-13 is highly organized, with trained business people in its top ranks. They operate counterfeit check rings; steal identities, strip cars, run guns and traffic drugs.
U.S. Attorney David J. Huber said, "This is not surprising, because Mexico supplies approximately 80 percent of our meth and another amount of cocaine and marijuana."
Since 2004, the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville has prosecuted nearly 100 felony cases involving illegal aliens; many suspects were in organized crime rings.
Huber said, "they bring us heroin, they bring us everything; (the gangs are) operating in Kentucky. These drug busts are an indication of that."
In Shelby county, illegal immigrants make up nearly 20 percent of the jail's population on any given day; most felony suspects are deported weekly by immigration and customs enforcement. Illegal aliens cost Shelby county taxpayers more than a thousand dollars a day to keep in jail.
One arrival at the jail this day is a landscaper named "Gerardo."< /p>
"Gerardo" was caught driving a company truck without a license. "Gerardo" says he paid a smuggler $1500 dollars to get across the border three years ago. "Gerardo" will likely be deported.
At the jail, repeat offenders sometimes aren't immediately recognized. And officers often don't know if inmates are low-risk like "Gerardo", or murderers, drug dealers and gang leaders. A few months back, an MS-13 leader was captured, but authorities didn't know it at the time.
Sutter said, "Now is the time to get on this. It isn't something we want to wait for. We need to be very proactive with this."
Shelbyville's quality of life may depend on it.
The latest report by the National Drug Intelligence Center reports drug cartel activity involving the Federation Cartel in Louisville and the rival Gulf Coast Cartel in Lexington.
Authorities fear violence in the future as these two groups begin to fight over territory here in Kentucky.