Drug cartels recruiting children as young as 11 to smuggle contraband across border

Drug cartels recruiting children as young as 11 to smuggle contraband across border
(Getty Images)

Through 2017-18, approximately 300 children from Arizona have been picked up by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after being recruited by drug cartels to smuggle drugs across the border. These children are sometimes as young as 11 years old. An ABC 15 investigation revealed that drug cartels have been using kids to smuggle drugs across the border, irrespective of their background or race. 

We have 11- and 12-year-old children already being approached to smuggle narcotics. There is no age limit for this, cartels will look for those more vulnerable and the first opportunity they have, they'll take it", Alan Regalado of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the news outlet.

A metal fence marked with the US Border Patrol sign prevents people to get close to the barbed/concertina wire covering the US/Mexico border fence, in Nogales, Arizona, on February 9, 2019. (Photo by Ariana Drehsler / AFP) (Photo credit should read ARIANA DREHSLER/AFP via Getty Images)

They were trying to recruit children from the Valley because it would be unexpected, Raul Rodriguez, a detective for the Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office said. The cartels have run out of recruitments in the Nogales area near the U.S. Mexico border and they're getting smarter, he said. "They are using females more than males, even Caucasian females and males, to do the transshipment of narcotics", he said. 

They are said to recruit children within a couple of hours of them connecting and they use social media, video games as well as word of mouth. "The community needs to know, the community needs to do something about it”, said Alan Regalado, spokesperson for the Tucson sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They transport drugs via their vehicles, taped to themselves, in body cavities or they are swallowed. Their rupture would be very dangerous to the child and can be fatal as well. 

While some may think they will not be prosecuted because they are children, it couldn't be further from the truth. In Arizona, children under 18 can also be prosecuted as adults if they are charged with a class-2 felony. When the case goes to trial, it may result in at least 3.5 years of jail time. The cartels recruit white children as well, Santa Cruz County Attorney George Silva said. "The majority of people that are getting arrested right now for trafficking hard drugs through our port of entry are white", he said.


One of the kids ABC 15 spoke to was from a stable financial background and said they wanted to do it because it would make them popular. The authorities are also dealing with American teens smuggling weapons, money, and ammunition as well, the investigation revealed. "Don't think it won't happen to your kid because it may”, Border Patrol Agent Alan Regalado said.

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