Cartels are turning to children to bring their illegal goods to the U.S., federal officials say.
Records kept by Customs and Border Protection show 130 minors were caught attempting to bring drugs through entry ports from Sonora into Arizona during fiscal year 2009, an 83 percent increase over the previous year.
Recently, customs officials working the San Luis port of entry near Yuma busted two American teenagers.
They arrested a 15-year-old girl who entered the state with 5 pounds of pot strapped around her stomach and a 16-year-old boy with 2 pounds of cannabis taped to his legs. Combined, the drugs on the street are worth $72,000.
Teresa Small, a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman in San Luis, said narcotics organizations are always on the lookout for ways to penetrate increased border security and so they recruit American teens with claims that they won’t face major punishment if they are caught.
“Drug-trafficking organizations lead them to believe they will not have a substantial sentence,” Small said. “But they’re actually telling them a lie.”
In fact, prison terms are not uncommon for teenage smugglers.
“One thing for sure: They will get the hardest punishment possible,” Small said.
Federal and local authorities created programs last year to warn Yuma County students about the dangers and consequences of drug smuggling. The federal campaign includes a presentation by border agents and a video with arrest re- enactments.
Roger Nelson, chief deputy for criminal cases at the Yuma County Attorney’s Office, said young smugglers face a strong likelihood of prison time.
Virtually all 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults, Nelson said, as are many 15- and 16-year-olds. Importation of drugs is a Class 2 felony that carries a presumptive sentence of five years.