Mi­nors be­ing re­cruited to carry drugs across bor­der

Po­lice launch cam­paign to pre­vent youth from be­ing tar­geted

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY CE­SAR NEYOY BAJO EL SOL

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Son. — “Don’t take chances, don’t let them de­ceive you.”

That’s the mes­sage in fly­ers that po­lice here have been hand­ing out to chil­dren and teens who cross the bor­der each morn­ing to at­tend schools in San Luis, Ariz.

The ref­er­ence is to traf­fick­ers who re­cruit mi­nors to carry across drugs con­cealed in their back­packs, strapped to their bod­ies or oth­er­wise con­cealed in the folds of their cloth­ing.

The Mu­nic­i­pal Po­lice Depart­ment in San Luis Rio Colorado and other law en­force­ment agen­cies launched the cam­paign last month, and this week of­fi­cers were back at the bor­der pass­ing out the fliers to youths lin­ing up to cross the bor­der through the pedes­trian lanes at the U.S. Port of En­try.

Join­ing them on Tues­day was David Lara, a mem­ber of the Yuma Union High School District gov­ern­ing board, who said school of­fi­cials and po­lice in the Yuma area need to do more on their side of the bor­der to pre­vent mi­nors from be­ing used as “mules” to carry across drugs.

“This is to bring at­ten­tion (to the fact) that the city of San Luis Rio Colorado is act­ing on a prob­lem that af­fects (both sides of the bor­der),” Lara said. “But we don’t see any ac­tion from the Amer­i­can side. This is, again, a call for our of­fi­cials to do some­thing also.”

In an in­ter­view, Lara said drug traf­fick­ers are ex­ploit­ing a loop­hole that al­lows chil­dren in San Luis Rio Colorado to come across the bor­der to at­tend school in San Luis, Ariz. In a “hand­ful” of cases, fam­i­lies in Mex­ico pay tu­ition for their chil­dren to be able to at­tend school in YUHSD or in the Gads­den Ele­men­tary School District, he said.

But in many more cases, stu­dents who ac­tu­ally de­clare res­i­dency in San Luis Rio Colorado the two school districts be­cause adults liv­ing in those districts claim guardian­ship of the mi­nors, Lara said. In still other cases, he added, adults are claim­ing power of at­tor­ney for the mi­nors.

The traf­fick­ers, said Lara, are ex­ploit­ing that loop­hole to re­cruit mi­nors to carry drugs with them when they com­mute across the bor­der.

Lara said John Sch­wamm, U.S. port of en­try di­rec­tor in San Luis, pro­vided some en­light­en­ment about the prob­lem sev­eral months ago when he spoke at a meet­ing of the Yuma County Repub­li­can Party that Lara at­tended.

“Metham­phetamines, heroin and co­caine is what we have been told are the most com­mon (drugs) found in the back­packs or in­side the stu­dent’s’ cloth­ing,” Lara said, “and in many cases it has oc­curred with the in­volve­ment of their own par­ents.”

He added: “The ques­tion is, do we have to wait for some­thing se­ri­ous to hap­pen to act on the Amer­i­can side? Th­ese are very small chil­dren who are be­ing ex­posed to many risks when cross­ing the bor­der alone.”

As long as ju­ve­niles are oth­er­wise el­i­gi­ble en­ter the United States, U.S. ports of en­try don’t stop them from cross­ing the bor­der on the ba­sis of age, said Teresa Small, spokes­woman for U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

She said CBP has been able to re­duce the in­ci­dence of ju­ve­nile smug­gling through Op­er­a­tion De­tour, a pro­gram launched in 2009

to send CBP and Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cers to schools near the bor­der to talk to stu­dents about the dan­gers of be­ing re­cruited by drug traf­fick­ers.

Lara said he’s get­ting in­volved in the is­sue “as a cit­i­zen con­cerned by the prob­lem.” But dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing of the high school district gov­ern­ing board, he asked the is­sue be placed on a fu­ture agenda for dis­cus­sion.

He said of­fi­cials in the Gads­den district, which cov­ers San Luis, Ariz., and neigh­bor­ing Gads­den, also need to be con­cerned about the is­sue.

Luis Mar­quez, a pres­i­dent of the Gads­den gov­ern­ing board and also po­lice of­fi­cer in San Luis, Ariz., said the ele­men­tary school district has not ig­nored the is­sue.

“The is­sue is dis­cussed in meet­ings with par­ents and in other events,” Mar­quez said, “but in re­al­ity it’s been noted that the ma­jor­ity of stu­dents who are used (for drug smug­gling) are mostly above the eighth grade. It’s not a big pro­gram in the ele­men­tary or ju­nior high schools — but yes, the (Gads­den) district is tak­ing ac­tion.”

And, Mar­quez said, it’s not up to the schools alone to fix the prob­lem.

“It’s good that some­one on the high school gov­ern­ing board is get­ting in­volved in that is­sue, but it’s only the schools’ re­spon­si­bil­ity; par­ents and the com­mu­nity in gen­eral have to get in­volved.”

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