Launch of outreach and education campaign to combat cartels using youth to smuggle drugs
SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Division of the DEA, along with federal and state law enforcement officials, have launched an outreach campaign in San Diego and Imperial Counties to prevent middle and high school students from acting as drug mules for cartels. Billboards, located in San Diego and Imperial Counties as well as one in Mexico, are being unveiled featuring stark warnings to minors about the dangers and collateral consequences of drug smuggling.
Funded by DEA and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA), these billboards warn youth that smuggling drugs could cost them their freedom and their futures, and is not worth the few hundred dollars they are being offered.
These efforts are in response to the rising number of incidents in which drugs were seized from minors at ports of entry in the Southern District of California. According to Customs and Border Protection, there was a 153 percent spike in drug seizures from minors from FY 2016 to FY 2017, from 39 to 99. With four months to go in FY 2018, the pace is set to match FY 2017, with a troubling new twist: minors are smuggling ultra-deadly fentanyl, which has not happened in prior years.
During a one-week span in March of this year, five minors were arrested at the San Ysidro Port of Entry attempting to smuggle significant quantities of fentanyl into the country. Other recent incidents involved a female teen who was driving a vehicle with fentanyl and cocaine concealed within the car, and on four different occasions, teenage boys attempted to enter through pedestrian lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry with over two kilograms each of fentanyl strapped to their bodies, under their clothes. For reference, two kilograms of fentanyl is enough to supply up to one million lethal doses of fentanyl.
“We live in a beautiful county which includes a world class city and one of the busiest land border crossings in the world, the San Ysidro Point of Entry. Thousands travel by foot and car to conduct business, visit friends and family, shop, eat, and enjoy life each day. Our enemies use this same border crossing to entice our children to bring death and destruction to the United States,” said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Karen Flowers. “Parents, teachers, students - all of us need to know that drug smuggling fuels destruction of lives and the violence on both sides of the border. It is not okay. It is not sexy. It is not easy money. It is not worth losing your life, your dreams, your potential.”
Drug traffickers take advantage of the naïve nature of children by offering them incentives like money and electronics in exchange for illegally crossing drugs into the U.S. Many of these children are being recruited at the high schools they attend, some even by classmates, and all with the promise that they will not get in trouble if they are caught due to their age. Parents, teachers, caretakers, school administrators and children need to be aware that recruiting efforts of traffickers pose a constant threat. Not only will drug traffickers attempt recruiting children at schools, but they may also approach them at after-school functions, camps, libraries, on public transportation, via social media outlets, and over electronic communications like gaming consoles, text messages or chat rooms. Recruiters could be other children, parents, familiar adults or complete strangers.
The DEA, alongside partnering federal and state enforcement agencies, are holding educational programs in South Bay high schools and community groups so that kids and their families are aware of the extreme dangers of handling dangerous drugs like fentanyl, of working with violent cartels, and the fallout from being arrested and charged with related crimes.
Other Agencies: United States Attorney’s Office, San Diego District Attorney’s Office, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department