Border Patrol program works to keep kids from drug cartels
Reporter: Craig Smith
SAHUARITA, Ariz (KGUN9-TV) - It takes plenty of manpower to move the flood of illegal drugs through Arizona. But now law enforcement is becoming more worried about cartels recruiting kidpower to carry the drugs.
And if cartels are bringing kids into their business early, Border Patrol and other Homeland Security officials are starting even earlier to keep kids from the temptation of money and drugs.
The drug loads we see and hear about are just a sample of the tons of marijuana and other drugs that move through our state.
Border Patrol's Tucson Sector seized more than a million pounds
of illegal drugs last year. It's on pace to seize that much or more this year.
And who's trying to move those drugs? Maybe the teen down the street---maybe your teen.
Border Patrol Agent Erin Jackson told a group of 8th Graders: "These smugglers are going to look at you and they think that you're young, that you're naive; they're going to tell you, you're not going to get in trouble; just bring this load of drugs up here, you're going to drop it off with this person. It's only gonna be about an hour or so and you're going to make seven hundred bucks."
To head off that temptation well before students face it, Border Patrol developed Operation Detour. KGUN9 News sat in on a presentation from Border Patrol agents, a US Marshal and an official with the US Bureau of Prisons offer 8th Graders at Sahuarita School Districts Anza Trail Middle School. They gave the students a harsh reality check.
They include a video that tells the story of a high schooler who tempts his friends into a business that will leave them caught between determined law enforcement and ruthless smugglers.
In one scene a smuggler handing over a drug load for them to move warns them: "Just remember you got 12 hundred pounds of my dope. Nothing better happen to it."
A Sheriff's Deputy finds one load on a speeding stop.
The students hear this exchange:
After he finds marijuana in the teen's car trunk the deputy asks: "What's this young man?"
Teen smuggler: "I don't know what you're talking about."
The deputy orders: "Put your hands behind your back, son," as he handcuffs the young man.
Another teen doesn't tell his girlfriend she's driving a drug load in her car until they're miles down the road.
She angrily tells him, "If anything happens, I am not going to lose my future over you and a load of dope! I'm sorry."
But losing their future is exactly what happens when they roll up on a checkpoint, run, and get nowhere but deeper trouble.
The program moves from re-enactment to a real teenaged smuggler. For Jonathan 500 pounds of marijuana meant three years in prison.
They play a presentation he taped to another group of students. He said to them: "Do I look like a troublemaker? I'm not. I'm actually a good person if you get to know me. But I still fell victim to that. Why? We all succumb to temptation. We see money flashed in our face and we want it."
Jonathan warns kids to never believe they're too smart or too lucky to ever be caught.
But did the message reach these kids?
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked some of them: "They talked about the idea that it's really easy to be tempted and to feel that getting caught's for other people. Is that something that really made an impression on you?
8th Grader Skylar Zuniga answered: "Yeah, cause of money and I'm pretty sure any kids would want to but something he really wants."
Smith asked: "Some people might say, oh, come on, people that young they're not gonna get roped into something like this but what do you say to that idea?"
Alyssa Lizardi replied: "I think that anybody can get roped in, especially from what people like, even just people like your friends, say, "oh yeah I've done drugs, it's great. So you warp your mind into thinking, oh yeah, drugs are great. If I get money for this, that's double greatness and you just end up in this downward spiral and soon enough you'll end up in jail."
But these students are confident they can stand up to peer pressure, and knowing what could happen if they don't should help them stay strong.