Money, fancy cars and nice clothes — things that most young people desire.
According to law enforcement, smugglers use promises of just that to lure middle- and high-schoolers into illegal activity such as smuggling drugs, people and even firearms.
That’s why officers from the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector are visiting local schools as part of a prevention program dubbed Operation Detour. The program’s latest stop was at La Paloma Academy, at Golf Links Road, Tuesday to speak with 150 seventh- and eighth-graders.
Though the Border Patrol didn’t have any data to show the number of teens arrested on smuggling charges, the agency say it is happening locally.
“We started seeing an unfortunate trend where we were apprehending kids for smuggling whether it be marijuana or humans,” said Agent David Jimarez. “We come to find out that these kids are being lured in with the promise of money – they’re being told ‘if you drive these drugs to this address, I’ll give you $500.’
“But they’re not being told the whole truth. They’re being told if they get caught, they won’t go to jail but that’s not the case. If they get arrested, these kids do face prosecution and possibly a conviction that could ruin their lives.”
The program began in 2009 in Texas and was adopted in Tucson last year. Since then, more than 11,000 area students have been exposed to the message of staying out of criminal activity and focusing their efforts on staying in school.
The Operation Detour program includes a graphic video that shows one of the consequences of being involved in the drug trade: death. There is also a video in which high schoolers become involved in transporting drugs and are caught by law enforcement.
Other agencies involved in the presentation include the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Reuben Manzo, an eighth-grader at La Paloma, said it’s easy to see how young people could be enticed, but said the threat of jail and death are enough to deter him.
Classmate Amy Pacheco agreed with Manzo: “I wouldn’t get into any of that because I don’t want to mess up my life.”
La Paloma Vice Principal Justin Dye is hopeful that others took away the same message.
“There is a need for this kind of education, especially for young kids like this,” Dye said. “Schools sometimes turn a blind eye and pretend this kind of activity isn’t happening. We need to reach them now so they are prepared should they ever be confronted with a situation like this in the future.”