Tucson, Ariz. - In what has become a disturbing recent trend, criminals are using children as decoys in drug smuggling vehicles. In the last two days, Border Patrol agents assigned to the Tucson Sector, a component of the Joint Field Command - Arizona, have removed five children from vehicles in two failed smuggling attempts.
One recent example of smugglers endangering the lives of children occurred on October 4. A K-9 team working at the Interstate 19 Checkpoint alerted to a vehicle driven by a 36-year-old United States citizen woman accompanied by her four minor children aged 17, 9, 6 and 4-years-old as it approached the primary inspection. The vehicle was referred for a secondary inspection where agents discovered eight bundles of marijuana concealed in the trunk. The bundles had a combined weight of 197 pounds and an estimated value of $98,500.
The vehicle, drugs and children were transported to the Nogales Station. Child Protective Services was contacted and took custody of the children. The mother is being presented for prosecution on federal drug smuggling charges.
On October 3, another child was removed from a drug smuggling vehicle which was seized at the State Route 80 Checkpoint. The driver, a 34-year old United States citizen and mother of the 8-year-old child, was attempting to smuggle 104 pounds of marijuana, worth $52,000, concealed in the vehicle's trunk.
Agents working at Border Patrol checkpoints may see hundreds of faces every day and have only seconds to determine whether a person is involved in criminal activity. Smugglers try to exploit this challenge by using people they believe do not look like the usual suspects. Agents use technology and K-9 teams to counter this tactic to ensure all criminals are brought to justice and that children are taken out of harm's way.
CBP announced the JFC-AZ in February as an organizational realignment that brings together the U.S. Border Patrol, Air and Marine, and Field Operations under a unified command structure. JFC-AZ integrates CBP border security, commercial enforcement and trade facilitation missions to more effectively meet the unique challenges faced in Arizona.
Since launching the Southwest Border Initiative in March 2009, the Department of Homeland Security has made significant investments toward establishing a secure, safe border environment to improve the quality of life throughout Arizona's communities.
CBP welcomes assistance from the community. Citizens can report suspicious activity by calling the Border Patrol toll free at (877) 872-7435. All calls will be answered and remain anonymous.