Almost a half-million people have sought refuge from the drug violence racking the Mexican border metropolis of Juarez, according to a newspaper estimate.

The El Paso Times reported this week that the city of Juarez’s planning department have found that 110,000 houses have been abandoned from 2005 to the beginning of 2009.

The paper extrapolates that “based on average family size, about 420,000 people, or 30 percent of the city’s residents, have moved out of Juárez, either to other parts of Mexico or to the United States.”

Although numbers may be squishy, the paper said local police, real estate agents and demographers “detect an increase in refugees from Mexico living in El Paso.”

Some of the “refugees” could be tied to the economy as about 75,000 people have lost their jobs since Dec. 2007, the paper reports. The maquiladora industry, which manufactures or assembles products for international distribution, shed most of those positions.

But another extraordinary statistic the paper reports is that more than 10,000 businesses — about 40 percent of the city’s total — have closed out of fear of extortion and assault, according to the Mexican chamber of commerce.

CIR, reporting for The Nation, wrote last year that “Officials on both sides of the border acknowledge these new immigrants but decline to make estimates of how many have fled.”

What’s interesting about the El Paso Times story is the effort to go beyond the local body count — more than 4,600 killed since 2008 — to quantify the economic and social damage that the violence has had in Juarez.

While the U.S. has pledged $1.4 billion in aid to Mexico and Central American countries to combat the drug trade, there has been little public discussion between the U.S. and Mexico about the social fallout from the related violence, and possible refugees from the drug war.

Elsewhere in Texas, the former head of the infamous Gulf cartel was sentenced behind closed doors in Houston to 25 years in federal prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Here is the press release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.