There’s a saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s not always true, at least not in a literal sense, but it often fairly accurate. Many people like this phrase, particularly when they’re dealing with hardships, because it makes them feel better about the difficulties.

Unfortunately, there’s a group of people who are surviving COVID-19 just fine and may well end up much, much stronger in the aftermath.

The reason that’s unfortunate is because I’m talking about the Mexican cartels.

There are estimated to be about 200 active criminal groups in Mexico, often involved in the illicit drug trade and human trafficking. While they are a source of torment for the communities they oversee, practicing violence, kidnapping, and extortion, they are also using this time to shift power away from the state. In the city of Apatzingán in Mexico’s western state of Michoacán, armed gunmen handed out bags of groceries to citizens, according to an article from The Guardian. This group is also asking local businesses to contribute to the aid for people in need. A Facebook video posted by Alejandrina Guzmán, a daughter of the drug overlord Joaquín Guzmán, shows women assembling care packages with food and toilet paper. Another lieutenant of an armed group has instructed the local government to organize a food bank.

While they may be helping their communities, Mexican criminal groups are doing so to build up political capital. In an interview with the head of the Cartel of the South, he explained it saying, “If we protect [local populations], they’ll protect us as well.” Citizens under the reign of these crime groups are aware of the motivations behind the help that the criminals are offering. A Michoacán local interviewed by The Guardian said, “It isn’t like any of them are good people. But the truth is we can’t expect much from anybody else. At least we know [the local armed group], so they are in some way the least bad solution.”

This will likely help the cartels solidify their hold on these territories. In and of itself, that’s bad enough. The problem is that these cartels may then turn their attention elsewhere in an effort to gain more territory. It also means they’ll have more resources to dedicate toward protecting their U.S. operations.

Since their territory tends to cover pretty much all of Mexico, solidifying that hold also means making it even less likely that Mexico will be a failed- and narco-state.

One right on our border.

It’s only a matter of time before that violence spills over onto U.S. soil. Oh, I don’t expect them to get a foothold here and expand territory outward. That would likely call down the wrath of the United States military, something the cartels could never survive and they likely know it. However, violence comes in many forms.

Here in the U.S., they have rivals and employees. While they already carry out killings here, that could escalate. They may well start targeting politicians and law enforcement and making the streets in border cities far more dangerous than they should be.

We should all be concerned with cartels gaining in power to the south, because there’s no reason to believe they’ll remain there completely.