By Angela Kocherga
Customs officers along one stretch of border are seeing a spike in the number of minors caught trying to smuggle drugs into the country. Most are U.S. citizens, students who use the small Columbus, New Mexico border crossing.
“We’re concerned that the criminal organizations are taking advantage of these kids, exploiting them.” said Robert Reza, Columbus Port Director.
Since the beginning of the year, Customs and Border Protection officers have caught six students trying to smuggle drugs into the country during the busy morning rush hour before classes.
“The majority of them are stuffing the narcotics in their backpack. Some are being taped to their bodies, concealed under their clothes too,” said Reza.
Drug traffickers take advantage of patters to try and blend in with regular border crossers. In this region, the strategy involves using students as couriers.
As many as 400 students a day use the pedestrian lanes at the Columbus port of entry on school days. The majority are U.S. citizens, but they have family ties in Mexico and live on both sides of the border.
On a recent rainy morning , mother kissed her small son goodbye as he approached Customs and Border Protection officers. The officers unzipped and searched backpacks and bags carried by the students. One small girl had a purse shaped like a stuffed dog that squeaked when the officer squeezed it.
On April 26, while searching backpacks, officers found 14.9 pounds of marijuana in a backpack carried by a 14-year-old student. On Mar. 26, they discovered 7.5 pounds of marijuana in a colorful floral backpack carried by a 16-year-old girl. And on Feb. 7, officers caught another 14-year-old boy carrying 2.2 pounds of marijuana hidden in his backpack between school supplies. In late January, CBP officers at the Columbus crossing found 482.6 pounds of marijuana hidden in the floor of a vehicle driven by a 16 year old.
All the teens were U.S. citizens. They were bringing the drugs across from the tiny Mexican town of Palomas which is located in a major drug trafficking corridor.
“I check my daughters backpacks daily,” said Viridiana Jacques as she walked with her two little girls.
Jacques is not taking any chances. She personally escorts her two young girls across the border and to the school bus.
After kissing them goodbye and watching them climb on board , Jacques said, “I’m glad the officers are thoroughly searching the students backpacks.”
She’s hopes that will discourage drug traffickers using students as smugglers.