Along key stretch of US-Mexico border, more kids running drugs
The Tucson sector of the US-Mexico border has seen an alarming rise in the number of juveniles facing drug-smuggling charges. Teens are also carrying harder drugs into the US.
On a balmy Monday afternoon, authorities at a highway checkpoint a few miles north of the US-Mexico border pull over a commercial shuttle for inspection. A teenage girl sitting inside appears rattled and, as it turns out, with good reason. Several bundles of heroin are weighing down her bag.Skip to next paragraph
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By the time border patrol agents finish checking all passengers, the teen and three other female minors are in custody. All had heroin packets tucked in their waistbands.
This incident from April was the latest in a string of recent cases in Arizona where juveniles have been arrested trying to smuggle drugs into the United States. While luring teens to act as drug mules for a few hundred bucks is not a new practice, the Tucson sector of the US-Mexico border – the nation's busiest – has seen an alarming jump in the past two years.
In 2012, 244 minors faced drug-smuggling charges in the Tucson sector, compared with 122 in 2011. By the end of this May, the number was already 154.
Moreover, all along the border, officials say minors are increasingly being used to traffic hard drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine, not just marijuana, as was mostly the case in the past.
Drug trafficking organizations lure minors to smuggle drugs with promises of money and assurances that there will be few consequences if they are caught, says Manuel Padilla, chief of the border patrol's Tucson sector.
"The reason they do that is because it's very difficult to prosecute children or juveniles through the federal system," he adds.
At the ports of entry and interior checkpoints, border authorities are encountering teens who strap drugs to their abdomen, inner thighs, and other body parts.
Although traffickers long have used the drug-smuggling method, the uptick in minors as body carriers is a fairly recent phenomenon, says Ms. Mack of ICE.
Investigators have seen children as young as 12 act as drug mules, although most usually are between the ages of 15 and 18, says Jose Garcia, deputy special agent for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in the San Diego area.