More US citizens arrested for smuggling drugs across the border


PHOENIX – A growing number of U.S. citizens have been apprehended as they attempted to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, an increase that comes due to travel restrictions at the border with the Mexico.

For more than a year, the closure of the southern border to non-essential traffic has severely limited the number of foreign nationals entering the United States by land. The rules were extended until at least June 21, but Mexican authorities have allowed most U.S. citizens to walk or drive south across the border with relative ease.

Law enforcement officials and drug trafficking experts say border rules – put in place in April 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus – and their uneven enforcement are leading to an increase in the number of U.S. citizens involved in drug busts at the borders. Mexican traffickers have long recruited Americans for this position.

U.S. citizens were apprehended nearly seven times more often than Mexican citizens between October 2020 and March 31 for attempting to smuggle drugs in vehicles, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. In fiscal 2018 and 2019, Americans were captured about twice as often as Mexicans.

“As cross-border travel has shifted to essential travel only, criminal organizations have also changed their operations,” the agency said in a recent statement. He noted that the drugs were increasingly seized by American citizens and by commercial trucks during the pandemic. Both groups are exempt from US land border restrictions.

Despite an early pandemic disturbances In the global drug trade, illegal substances have since spilled into the United States – the world’s largest consumer of these substances. According to Customs and Border Protection, drug seizures along the US-Mexico border increased slightly in fiscal 2021, while the US Department of Homeland Security said the ability of Mexican traffickers to transporting drugs into the country had remained “largely intact”.

Most illegal drugs in the United States, especially narcotics, enter the southern border. Americans are essential to these operations, say trafficking experts.

“The perception is that American citizens are less watched by border patrol and CBP,” said Michael Corbett, who worked in the Drug Enforcement Administration for 30 years and is now a narcotics expert witness. “Drug smuggling is a risk management business. They look for all the methods they can find to get the drugs in the safest and most efficient way possible. “

Victor Manjarrez, former head of the border patrol sector in El Paso and Tucson, said that “the use of US citizens is kind of ebb and flow.

“Drug organizations… are much more adept at changing than government,” said Manjarrez, now professor of border and national security at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Customs and border protection figures show the agency seized nearly 92,000 pounds of drugs from vehicles at southern ports of entry between October 2020 and May.

US citizens had been apprehended about 2,400 times at the end of March for drug trafficking during inspections of vehicles passing through these checkpoints. By comparison, only 361 of these apprehensions over the same period involved Mexican citizens, who are typically second to Americans in drug trafficking arrests at ports of entry.

Arrests of US citizens who inject drugs into their bodies have also increased. In the first four months of fiscal 2021, 505 Americans were arrested with drugs concealed in their bodies at southern checkpoints, compared to just 35 people from all other countries during the same period.

Although illegal substances introduced by this type of mail represent only a fraction of all drugs crossing the United States, these apprehensions in fiscal year 2018 were more balanced between American citizens and non- citizens to 467 against 386, respectively, Customs and Borders. The protection data is displayed.

The apprehension figures for U.S. and Mexican citizens caught driving drugs over the border in recent years were not as far apart as this year – 1,693 versus 793 in 2018 and 2,694 versus 1,218 in 2019, respectively.

In many cases, drug couriers in the United States are recruited for one-off assignments to drive a shipment across the border in exchange for a lump sum payment based on the amount of product they are carrying, experts say.

Yatziri Barboza was one of them. In March, the 24-year-old from Houston was arrested after an x-ray and further inspection at a port of entry in Laredo, Texas, after discovering nearly 58 kilograms of liquid methamphetamine concealed in the gas tank. of the SUV. she was driving, according to court documents.

Barboza told law enforcement officials she had to drive the shipment to an undisclosed location in Houston in exchange for $ 10,000, according to a criminal complaint.

Mryna Montemayor, a public defender representing Barboza, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Likewise, Mike Mendoza, 23, also from Houston, was arrested in February after border officials stopped him at the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge in Laredo while driving a van with 132 pounds of meth hidden in its tires, according to a criminal complaint. Authorities estimate the market value of the drugs at $ 360,000.

Abundio Rene Cantu, a lawyer representing Mendoza, said he believed his client had been offered a reward “in the thousands” of dollars. He denied knowing which Mexican criminal organization recruited Mendoza, who worked in construction.

“It wasn’t something he was regularly involved in,” Cantu said of Mendoza, who pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking charge in March. “But generally… people can get stuck at times. And so, they end up with someone who knows someone from a Mexican organization, and they offer money to get involved in this type of activity.

Cantu estimates that the number of cases he has handled of U.S. citizens facing drug trafficking charges has doubled since 2019. He largely attributes the partial border closure.

“It just opened up this opportunity to recruit new recruits,” he said. “American citizens … people who are in financial difficulty and who will be allowed entry.”

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