Photographer Louie Palu is no stranger to conflict photography. After covering Afghanistan for more than five years, he returned to North America to cover the bloody drug-related crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. Traveling the length of the border, working on both sides, he covered key cartel territory as well as government-controlled areas. Palu: "I feel that organized crime groups pose a greater risk to each one of us on a daily basis than terrorists or the Taliban. Their daily goal is to corrupt all government and law enforcement in order to carry out their business on both sides of the border." Since 2006 over 60,000 Mexicans have been killed and numerous journalists have been murdered or reported missing -- from 2006-2012 Mexico ranked as one of the deadliest places in the world for journalists. Funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting and a fellowship from the New America Foundation, Palu was able to capture these powerful images of crisis in northern Mexico. [20 photos total]

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Girls dressed as angels pray at a crime scene where a young man was assassinated during what is known as a "heating up of the plaza" by rival drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Mexicans look through the U.S.-Mexico border fence into the United States from a Mexican beach west of Tijuana, Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A man holding a U.S. passport coming from Mexico with his bike lines up at port of entry into the United States under the watchful eye of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent and a dog used to sniff out illegal narcotics in Laredo, Texas. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Officers search vehicles at the Laredo port of entry coming into Texas from Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) aims a flashlight down a 55 foot deep drug smuggling tunnel that runs almost 240 yards under the U.S.-Mexico Border cut through a floor of a small industrial unit south of Yuma, Arizona in the town of San Luis. It is estimated that the tunnel built by a Mexican drug cartel cost up to 1-million dollars and took one year to build. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Heavily armed Civil Police patrol through Colonia Independencia in Monterrey, Mexico, during the Mexican General Election. Monterrey is a vital hub for the U.S.-Mexico border and one of the richest and most violent cities in Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Mexican Federal Police officers stand on top of handcuffed drug cartel assassins after arresting them in a gun battle in which the assassins had gone on a killing spree in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Mexican police are well known for corruption, human rights abuses and in many cases working in partnership with cartels. In 2008 only 38% of Mexican police had their high school diploma. The U.S. aid program to fight drug cartels known as the Merida Initiative supplies mostly weapons and equipment to Mexican security forces. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A police officer stands by children just out of school all of whom are looking at the scene of a drug related shooting of a man in front of their school yard in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Two men executed with assault rifles at a taco stand by assassins hired by drug cartels, during a "heating up of the plaza" in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A Mexican soldier stands guard by a bullet-riddled vehicle in which two men were executed by drug cartel assassins in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
U.S. Border Patrol Agents stack bundles of marijuana seized from a vehicle at a checkpoint on the I-35 highway just north of the key port of entry from Mexico located in Laredo, Texas. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
The bodies of men executed and dumped on the side of the highway in Navolato, Sinaloa which was the birthplace of one of the former leaders of the Juarez Cartel. Navolato is located next to the home turf of the Sinaloa Cartel who were locked in a battle for control of Ciudad Juarez for several years. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A main road located in a poor suburb of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Children who are orphaned by the drug war and have had trouble with drugs are seen in a shelter run by a local pastor who is an ex con in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Thousands of children in Mexico are orphans or victims in a myriad of ways of the drug war and the record level of violence. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A U.S. Border Patrol facility in Laredo, Texas where agents monitor video surveillance of the U.S.-Mexico border. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Multiple track marks from injecting heroin, in the legs of a Mexican man in Ciudad Juarez who was deported to Mexico from the U.S. He was first exposed to illegal drugs in the U.S. became an addict and was eventually deported. Drug addiction in Mexico along the U.S. border is rising due to the amount of illegal drugs passing through border towns. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A woman who was found beating herself in the downtown of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in a privately run shelter for the mentally ill west of the city. Due to a lack of state social infrastructure many people with extreme mental illnesses are brought here. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A man with hands bound behind his back and killed execution style on the banks of a river in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, the cradle of many of the drug cartels and their leaders in Mexico. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
A section of the old U.S. border fence separating Imperial Beach, California seen from the western edge of Tijuana, Mexico with a newer taller second U.S. border fence in the background. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #
Marisol Espinoza, a 20-year-old woman from Chiapas, Mexico in a shelter for deportees and migrants the night after she was deported from the United States. She crossed the into the United States and walked through the Arizona desert for 6-days until she was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol. (© Louie Palu/ZUMA Press) #

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