Teens Risk Freedom To Earn Big Bucks Smuggling 

Teens Risk Freedom To Earn Big Bucks Smuggling 
Posted by FoM on September 10, 2000 at 07:47:24 PT
By Rene Romo, Journal Southern Bureau 
Source: Albuquerque Journal
On her first excursion as a drug courier, the 14-year-old figured she had better come up with a disguise to get through a U.S. Customs port of entry with a load of marijuana.   With an advance on the $1,500 fee, she bought a fake ID on the streets of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, had her nails manicured and her hair dyed blue-black "to look older." She also got a makeover and bought new clothes, a watch, bracelets, earrings. Loretta (whose name has been changed for this story) was going for the young businesswoman look, she said. 
 Loretta tossed newspapers about the Ford Explorer in which the drug traffickers had stashed more than 100 pounds of marijuana. She left a briefcase with a cellular phone inside open on the car floor.   She did not even possess a driver's license.   She is among the increasing numbers of teen-agers being used to ferry drugs across the Mexico border.   Loretta had run away from her grandmother's home earlier this year. She said she successfully carried two loads of marijuana hidden in cars through El Paso-area ports of entry before she was caught  twice.   The trick to carrying it off was to look natural, she said recently in an El Paso County juvenile detention center cell. And she recalled the mundane exchange that makes or breaks most drug trafficking ventures at ports of entry.   "I drove up, rolled down the window, said: 'American,' '' she recalled.   "What are you bringing back?" the Customs official asked.   "Nothing."   "Where are you coming from?"   "Business meeting."   "OK, pass," the official said.   Five Tons and Counting:  The belief that juveniles will be stopped less often and will not face substantial incarceration are factors that have fueled the rise in use of juveniles from both sides of the border to smuggle drugs, primarily marijuana, into the United States.   Last year, 148 juveniles age 17 or younger were caught attempting to smuggle illegal drugs through El Paso-area ports of entry  a nearly 50 percent increase over 1998.   At the current pace, the number of teen drug smugglers arrested in 2000 will rise another 25 percent, according to U.S. Customs Service statistics.   Juvenile drug couriers collared while driving through El Paso-area ports of entry this year were caught with 5 tons of marijuana  a load with a street value of roughly $10 million.   Manny Alvarez, Customs Service assistant port director for passenger operations in El Paso, said it is not clear how much Mexican and American drug traffickers rely on juveniles to smuggle drugs across the border, because no one knows how many teen smugglers bring over drugs undetected.   Drug traffickers angle lucrative fees to entice couriers, mainly Juarez residents eager for American cash. Among the couriers are elderly men in their 70s, pregnant women and families with parents and children, Alvarez said.   Now, Alvarez said, the use of teens as couriers is a rising trend.   "We've never seen as many juveniles in the past as we are now," Alvarez said.   The El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department allowed the Journal to interview teen-agers accused of smuggling drugs, but only if their real names were not published and their faces not shown.   The youths said it was the cash that smugglers are willing to pay, more than anything else, that led them to play the dangerous role of unassuming couriers.   "I felt awkward when they asked me. But you know how they say money talks? I wanted the money," Loretta said.   Besides, she said: "I'm thinking, what are they going to do to me? I'm 14." She is scheduled to spend four months in a Texas boot camp for delinquent juveniles.   Good-Paying Job:  Using teens who do not face penalties as stiff as adult couriers is a cost-effective smuggling method.   A single pound of marijuana has a street value of about $1,000 near the Mexican border. For a few hundred to several thousand dollars, smugglers can secret $50,000 or more worth of marijuana across the border with a teen-ager  some so young they have never held a job.   The marijuana loads transported by teen-agers caught at El Paso ports of entry this year have averaged 81 pounds, according to the Customs Service.   But some loads are considerable. On May 19, 1999, one teen was caught with 396 pounds of marijuana. On May 27 of this year, inspectors found 330 pounds of marijuana in the care of a 17-year-old Juarez boy.   Loretta, who initially told her Juarez drug connections that she was 21 years old, said she felt like an important part of the scheme. The teen said she was paid $2,500 for driving a 150-pound load of marijuana on her second trip.   "I felt, if I make it, I feed the boss, I feed everybody," Loretta said. "If I don't make it, nobody gets paid."   A fellow El Paso teen-ager at the detention center  this one a 16-year-old boy who recently completed nine months of probation  said he crossed small loads of marijuana into the border town four times before he was caught last year with a 26-pound shipment.   He said he was approached in El Paso by a street dealer who offered to pay $50 for every pound smuggled. Each time, he said, he believed he smuggled 3 or 4 pounds of marijuana in various cars with Mexican license plates.   "I never got nervous. Just the last, last time," he said. "The other times, I was like, 'American citizen,' and they'd ask me, 'Where are you coming from?' And I'd say, 'Visiting my grandma,' or cousins, or my girlfriend. I'd just make up something, and they'd let me go."   Stiff Penalties:  The rewards are greater for Mexican youths because of their country's poor economy. But the risks are greater, too: Mexican youths may be sent to Texas state institutions, in serious cases, until they turn 18.   If a Mexican youth is caught with a relatively small amount of drugs, has a stable family and no serious record of trouble, he or she may be returned to Mexico under family supervision, said Manuel Torres, director of intake and court investigations for the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department.   One teen, a 15-year-old Juarez youth with a wispy goatee, said he agreed to drive a Blazer packed with 126 pounds of marijuana across the border for a $700 fee when he was caught Aug. 3.   He said he planned to use the money to pay for his high school education, at about $40 a month, because his father, a custodian, could not afford to.   "I just wanted to pay for it," he said.   Now he faces spending several months in a Texas state institution, far removed from his family, and he is missing his education in Mexico.   "They (smugglers) show you the money. They say if they catch you, you'll be out in three days, that you're minors, they can't do anything to you," he said.   Another Juarez youth, a 16-year-old with a baby face who was caught in late July while part of a drug smuggling effort, cried quietly as he worried about his family and how long he would be away from them. He said he had hoped to help his mother with his fee.   Both boys said they knew other youths who had been caught while smuggling, as well as teens who had made their deliveries and returned home with enough cash to buy cars.   Smugglers ask youths who make deliveries to recruit friends, as well.   Drug smuggling in Juarez is rampant, the 15-year-old said, and will continue as long as there is drug demand in the United States and lucrative fees for short, risky hops across the border.   "Young people will keep taking the risk," he said.   Torres said that last academic year he visited several high schools in Juarez to speak to children and parents about the consequences of being caught smuggling drugs.   "It's exciting, and there's the lure of the money. And they are told nothing is going to happen to them, that they won't find the marijuana because the dogs won't find it, it's wrapped up real good," Torres said. "But the truth is, they are detained. They can remain locked up. And because it's an immigration violation, they might lose their passport and won't be able to return to the U.S. ever again."   This year, more than two-thirds of the juveniles caught smuggling drugs were Mexican citizens.   'It's Over, It's Over'  For most American juveniles, the lure of smuggling is quick cash.   "I was thinking, if I don't do it, and somebody else does it, that's going to be money I could have had," said one 16-year-old girl from El Paso. "And I needed the money."   She said she was offered $2,000 to smuggle drugs across the border in June.   The original plan called for her to drive a car from Juarez to Kansas and then fly back.   But at the last minute, the trafficker told her she had to drive a Lincoln Town Car with Kansas plates to an El Paso parking lot and leave it there for a pick-up.   The proposition was not risk-free, but she wanted to pay off traffic fines. At the time, she was working 25 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant, making $5.20 an hour.   She turned 16 in January and obtained a driver's permit in February. Four months later, at the request of an ex-boyfriend involved in drug dealing, she went to Juarez to pick up a car packed with drugs hidden in the tires. She was paid $200 up front, with the rest of her fee to be paid upon delivery of the car to its drop point.   She is tall and thin, with black hair and the seemingly worry-free face of a teen-ager. She said she does not know how Customs officials suspected her among all the drivers in the lines waiting to cross an international bridge into El Paso.   She remembered agents surveying the drivers, spotting her and then walking over. Suddenly nervous, she said she put her hands together, cracked her knuckles and thought, "It's over, it's over."   Agents found 64.6 pounds of marijuana  a street value of $65,000.   Since then, she has been sentenced to probation until she turns 18. She has been under house arrest and has had to wear a monitoring bracelet around her ankle 24 hours a day.   "I knew the consequences, and a lot of people told me not to do it," she said. She has an uncle, the "closest thing I had to a dad," who is doing time in prison for a drug-trafficking offense.   "I think I was just trying to show how brave I was. But when I got back, people said, 'You know what, even if you did do it, you wouldn't have been brave. You would have just been stupid.' '' Published: Sunday, September 10, 2000Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)Copyright: 2000 Albuquerque JournalContact: opinion abqjournal.comAddress: P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103Website: Articles: Smugglers' Youth Ends at Border Are Easy Targets For Smuggling Drugs
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Comment #2 posted by Dr. Ganj on September 11, 2000 at 23:08:32 PT
No Matter What- Drugs Are Coming In!
We can try and lock every adult up for drug charges, but now we have to lock up the kids too! Ha! And to think it's "for the children"! See what happens when we try and prohibit something? It's a disaster, that's what. It's an absolute sham on the world. To think the U.S. government has any right what so ever to control the behavior and desires of free people is disgusting. I feel ill to be an American. I just watched a show on The Discovery Channel about Australia. I want to move. I want to be free again.I just heard a noise at my door, and grabbed my gun-it was the cat. See what the fuzz have done to me! My heart is pounding, as I'm ready to kill. See what this Drug War has done!I want to move.I'll look into getting my passport tomorrow. This is an awful country, filled with evil people. Maybe when everyone is in prison, including all the kids, I'll return. Considering the rate we're going, I'll wager everyone will be locked up in two years. Remember that movie "Escape From New York"? Forget Manhattan, just build a wall around this whole rotten country and call it Hell.  Dr. Ganj
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Comment #1 posted by legalizeit on September 10, 2000 at 10:27:59 PT
Prohibition for the CCHHILLDDRRUUNN!
Look at what Prohibition has done for the children - turned them into top-notch smugglers!Granted, these children probably wouldn't have a chance for good $$$ if pot were legal, but the lure of good money leads them into a risky profession.Politicians seem to always talk about how they're doing it for the children -- yet their laws make drugs all the more available to children and suck them into doing things like this.When will they ever wake up...
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