Mexican drug cartels are luring young students into the narco-trade with promises of cars, cash and celebrity, say state police who want parents to intervene.
“It is more important than ever that parents be aware of these risks, talk to their children and pay attention to any signs that they may have become involved in illegal activities,” Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday.
The warning comes as law enforcement officials report an increase in the number of teens from both Mexico and the United States becoming involved in human and drug trafficking. In 2008, minors accounted for nearly a fifth of the felony drug charges and gang-related arrests in border counties, according to DPS. In Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, more than 130 minors have been killed in drug-related violence in the past year, according to a Washington Post report earlier this month.
Mexican cartels are increasingly using kids to transport both people and drugs because young traffickers are less likely to be apprehended. Mark Qualia, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Washington, said federal border officials historically have not tracked the number of undocumented minors apprehended for trafficking. Most, he said, are simply deported.
“Your smuggling organizations have come to realize that they don’t lose a potential courier — because if it’s a juvenile, nine times out of 10, they’ll be released,” Qualia said. Last month, Qualia said, Border Patrol began testing a system to track youths arrested in suspected trafficking incidents to identify repeat offenders.
This spring, Border Patrol agents started going into Texas border high schools and issuing graphic warnings to students about the dangers of the drug trade. In addition to warning of jail time, the agents show a video dramatization of youths who start smuggling marijuana for the cartels. The kids lose a load, and the drug lords come after them. One of the teens gets executed.
Though it’s too early to tell what effect the presentations are having, CBP spokesman Dennis Smith in Del Rio said the program has been expanded from Del Rio to the entire southwest border. “There’s some pretty compelling footage in there that was taken actually from drug smugglers, where it talks about how people who get involved, they could end up being tortured and killed,” he said.
Texas law enforcement officials are worried cartels will move their recruitment operations to schools north of the border. Parents should keep an eye on teens who start buying fancier clothes or driving nicer cars than they should be able to afford, said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange.
“Some of these kids, they’re real vulnerable, and they may be looking for money or they may be looking for someone to fit in with,” she said, “but that would be the wrong group of people to choose to hang around with.”
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