Top AZ Paper: Narco-Insurgents Use Kids To Bring Drugs Across U.S.-Mexican Border

Top AZ Paper: Narco-Insurgents Use Kids To Bring Drugs Across U.S.-Mexican Border

July 5th, 2010 Posted By Pat Dollard.

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Arizona Republic:

On May 9, a 15-year-old girl walked into Arizona through the San Luis port of entry, near Yuma, with 5 pounds of marijuana strapped around her belly.

She got busted by Customs and Border Protection officers.

Later that same day, a 16-year-old boy tried the same thing with 2 pounds of cannabis taped to his legs. He, too, was arrested.

The marijuana, with a combined street value of $72,000, was confiscated.

The juveniles – both U.S. citizens – were turned over to police.

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But others keep taking their place.

In the past two years, Homeland Security officials have witnessed a disturbing development along the Mexican border: kid smugglers.

“It’s going up,” said Michael Lowrie, a public-affairs agent for the U.S. Border Patrol. “Not a whole lot, but more than we’ve seen in, well, pretty much ever.”

The Border Patrol does not keep data on juvenile drug runners caught trying to sneak into Arizona through the desert and mountains. But Customs and Border Protection records show 130 minors were caught attempting to bring drugs through entry ports from Sonora into Arizona during fiscal 2009, an 83 percent increase over the previous year.

Teresa Small, a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman in San Luis, said narcotics organizations – always on the lookout for ways to penetrate increasing border security – are recruiting American teens with claims that they won’t face major punishment if they are caught.

“Drug-trafficking organizations lead them to believe they will not have a substantial sentence,” Small said. “But they’re actually telling them a lie.”

In fact, prison terms are not uncommon for teen smugglers.

The problem escalated last year to a point where federal and local authorities created programs to warn Yuma County students about the dangers and consequences of drug smuggling. The federal campaign includes a presentation by border agents and a video with arrest re-enactments.

Meanwhile, a mock-sentencing program created by the Yuma County Superior Court has been presented at San Luis High School and a local after-school jobs center. Judge Maria Elena Cruz said she has noticed a surge of young smugglers who are stunned when she orders them incarcerated.

Cruz said her presentation, featuring a real prosecutor and defense attorney, ends with a teenager sentenced to prison. “We had parents and juveniles crying,” she added. “It was very, very effective.”

Small said most of the youthful offenders are Americans with family members in Mexico. She said port officers generally refer suspects to local authorities for prosecution under Arizona law, rather than to the federal justice system.

“One thing for sure: They will get the hardest punishment possible,” Small said.

Lowrie said cartels may be recruiting juveniles because the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona has cracked down on so-called drug mules, low-level couriers who try to smuggle narcotics through ports or carry loads through the backcountry. Until prosecutorial staffing was beefed up recently, those runners were not charged federally unless they were caught with hundreds of pounds of marijuana.

Roger Nelson, chief deputy for criminal cases at the Yuma County Attorney’s Office, said young smugglers face a strong likelihood of prison time.

Virtually all 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults, he said, as are many 15- and 16-year-olds. Importation of drugs is a Class 2 felony that carries a presumptive sentence of five years. In plea agreements, Nelson said, prosecutors often reduce the charge to attempted importation, a Class 3 felony that carries a presumptive sentence of 3 1/2 years but allows for probation.

Nelson said juvenile defendants who strap small amounts of marijuana to their bodies sometimes are granted probation, but those who drive into inspection stations with larger loads often wind up behind bars.

Yuma County prosecutors handled 22 cases in 2009 and 15 during the first five months of this year.

Juvenile cases in federal court are confidential, so limited information is available on the fate of defendants there.

Shelley Clemens, chief assistant U.S. attorney in Tucson, said a child convicted of delinquency in the federal system may be incarcerated for a maximum of five years, or until age 21.

Although most of the juvenile smugglers are American citizens, Clemens said those referred for federal prosecution usually are Mexican nationals who quickly plead guilty. After conviction and completion of court-imposed sentences, she said, they are deported.

Still, the cases pile up.

On June 24, Customs and Border Protection reported, a 16-year-old American boy was arrested at the San Luis port of entry with cocaine taped to his leg. Two days later, a 17-year-old Douglas girl, also a U.S. citizen, was caught trying to smuggle a purse full of bullets southbound into Mexico, where firearms and ammunition are outlawed.

“They think they’re going to get away with it or get a slap on the wrist,” Lowrie said. “It’s a growing trend.”

Deadly Border Shootout Leaves Bullet Holes In El Paso City Hall

Deadly Border Shootout Leaves Bullet Holes In El Paso City Hall

July 1st, 2010 Posted By Pat Dollard.

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When the first American child is killed by random gunfire, let me hear Obama tell us that border violence is receding, as he tried to do today…

EL PASO, Texas (AP) – A deadly shootout between gunmen and Mexican police that left seven bullet holes in El Paso City Hall has renewed calls for tighter border security, even as local authorities say little can be done to stop stray bullets from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote President Barack Obama on Wednesday to say Tuesday’s “cross-border gunfire” was more proof that the state “is under constant assault from illegal activity threatening a porous border.”

Mexican authorities said the shootout began between police and armed suspects in Ciudad Juarez – a city plagued by drug violence just across the Rio Grande from El Paso – as officers were trying to investigate a vehicle with no license plates in a border-area parking lot within view of El Paso City Hall.

Police and the suspects exchanged at least 40 shots, and El Paso police believe seven of those bullets flew over the border – traveling more than a half-mile – and hit city hall. No one was injured in El Paso, but a Mexican federal police officer and a bystander in Juarez were killed.

In his letter to Obama, Abbott said “good fortune” prevented any injuries when a single bullet crashed through a ninth-floor office window but insisted the incident was evidence of the need for more border security.

“Luck and good fortune are not effective border enforcement policies,” Abbott wrote. “The shocking reality of cross-border gunfire proves the cold reality: American lives are at risk.”

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about Abbott’s letter.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Juarez since the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels started fighting for control of the sprawling border city in 2008. Daylight shootings have become commonplace.

Despite concerns of spillover violence from Mexico’s bloody fight against drug cartels, many border cities, including El Paso, have remained largely unscathed.

So far this year, El Paso has recorded one homicide, compared to more than 1,300 killings in Juarez.

El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson shrugged off suggestions that more security could prevent stray bullets from flying across the border.

“A (multimillion-dollar) wall didn’t stop bullets,” Wilson said, referring to the border fence built during the Bush administration.

“It’s an unfortunate reality of where we are,” she said.

Abbott is among a growing number of politicians from around the country arguing for more border security.

Earlier this year, Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was shot to death in a remote stretch of desert on his property about 20 miles from the border. Investigators have said footprints led from the scene of that shooting south to the border.

Krentz’s killing prompted an outcry over border security. Lawmakers in Arizona later passed a bill giving local police authority to ask about someone’s immigration status in certain situations.

Obama has ordered up to 1,200 National Guard soldiers to the border

The Southern Border Could Get Much Worse

The Southern Border Could Get Much Worse

By Robert Eugene Simmons Jr

The southern border of the USA is no longer something that we can ignore or use as a political tool. Successive presidents have failed to control this border for one reason or another, but the escalation of drug cartel violence on the southern side of the border is making the issue of illegal immigration almost an afterthought. It seems that if something doesn’t change, we could be looking at an all-out war with Mexican drug cartels.
Police Chief Jeff Kirkham of the border town Nogales, Arizona, told Tucson Channel 9 (ABC) news that he has received threats that the Mexican drug cartels will start using snipers to target on- and off-duty police officers from across the border.
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Given the fact that Nogales sits right on the border with the town of Heroica Nogales on the other side, the threat is entirely credible and feasible. Heroica Nogales would provide ample places to hide within sniper range of many parts of Nogales. With an effective range of over one mile, modern rifles could easily target U.S. citizens and police in an eerie echo of the siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian war.

If snipers start setting up shop in Heroica Nogales, we certainly won’t be able to count on the Mexican military to take care of the problem. The cartels clearly don’t fear the Mexican military, given the enormous intimidation and bribery that they are able to bring to the table. Leaked stories of massive Mexican military corruption and intimidation are commonplace in the border regions.
Given that the Mexican military would be of dubious worth, what options are left for the Obama administration to deal with the problem? Would Obama fire predator missiles into Mexico from drones to take out snipers, or would the risk of a real military conflict with the regular Mexican army and civilian casualties make that option out of the question? Would counter-snipers be employed to take out drug cartel snipers? Given Obama’s reluctance to deploy anything more than logistic personnel from the National Guard to the border, the answer is likely “no.” If Obama will not authorize return fire, what is the game plan for the police and civilians being shot at from across the border? If Obama did authorize return fire across the border, how would Mexico react to military snipers from our side shooting drug cartel snipers from theirs? Finally, what would the rules of engagement be? Would American military snipers be authorized to take out anyone deemed a threat, or would the life of a police officer or civilian have to be taken before they can fire back? Even the military will admit that counter-sniper operations are complex and fraught with risk.
However dismal the sniper scenario sounds, the problem doesn’t stop there. The Mexican drug cartels are exceptionally well-manned and armed with fully automatic AK-47 rifles, RPGs, and standard grenades, none of which are available for sale in the USA. How long before the cartels realize that they have far more men and armament than a border crossing and outright attack the police manning the crossing? It could start with the Mexican border control agents abandoning their post to avoid certain death and end with the cartels attacking a border crossing, thus opening up a floodgate through which tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, narcotics traffickers, criminals, and terrorists could flood into the USA in a matter of hours.
If the Mexican drug cartels stop fighting each other and unite, this scenario could rapidly become a catastrophe. Imagine a wave of violent drug cartels overrunning the border, crossing in Nogales and then the entire town. The most frightening thing is that the scenario is entirely plausible. With a foothold in the USA, the flood of people and narcotics would be virtually unstoppable, and we would end up with an urban war in our own borders.
Make no mistake that America is under an invasion. The army is not that of the Mexican government, but it is an invasion nonetheless. If we continue to turn a blind eye to the situation, it could easily escalate out of control into an international and human catastrophe. We can no longer wait and see what happens on the border and then react to it. Any military strategist will tell you that if you are merely reacting, you are losing.
It’s time that we send the American military, not just the National Guard, to the border to defend the USA, as is the responsibility of the federal government. This suggestion is not meant to disparage the Arizona National Guard, but they are simply not built for large-scale combat operations, and this is no longer just a simple law enforcement situation. We need to secure the border with combat troops and convince the Mexican drug cartels that they are better off squabbling with each other than fighting the USA. In fact, if the border becomes so secure that nothing can get through, the cartels will have to find other routes for their drug trade, leave the border area, and improve the lives of law-abiding Mexicans on the other side of the border as well.
In addition to securing the border, it is time for Mexican President Calderón and Obama to meet to discuss the possibilities of worsening assaults on the border and our possible responses to these events before they actually happen. If protocols and understandings are there beforehand, the likelihood of any incident spinning out of control into a war is greatly reduced.
Finally, Obama needs to reprioritize his administration away from attempting to sue Arizona and toward addressing the problem that prompted Arizona to pass the law in the first place. Only after the border is secure should we talk about what to do about illegal immigrants still in the USA and expanding work permit programs for law-abiding Mexicans to make a living here.

Mexican Gangs Maintain Permanent Lookout Bases in Hills of Arizona

Mexican Gangs Maintain Permanent Lookout Bases in Hills of Arizona

By Adam Housley

Published June 22, 2010

 

Mexican drug cartels have set up shop on American soil, maintaining lookout bases in strategic locations in the hills of southern Arizona from which their scouts can monitor every move made by law enforcement officials, federal agents tell Fox News. 

The scouts are supplied by drivers who bring them food, water, batteries for radios — all the items they need to stay in the wilderness for a long time.  

Click here for more on this story from Adam Housley.

“To say that this area is out of control is an understatement,” said an agent who patrols the area and asked not to be named. “We (federal border agents), as well as the Pima County Sheriff Office and the Bureau of Land Management, can attest to that.”  

Much of the drug traffic originates in the Menagers Dam area, the Vekol Valley, Stanfield and around the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. It even follows a natural gas pipeline that runs from Mexico into Arizona. 

In these areas, which are south and west of Tucson, sources said there are “cartel scouts galore” watching the movements of federal, state and local law enforcement, from the border all the way up to Interstate 8.      

“Every night we’re getting beaten like a pinata at a birthday party by drug, alien smugglers,” a second federal agent told Fox News by e-mail. “The danger is out there, with all the weapons being found coming northbound…. someone needs to know about this!” 

The agents blame part of their plight on new policies from Washington, claiming it has put a majority of the U.S. agents on the border itself. One agent compared it to a short-yardage defense in football, explaining that once the smugglers and drug-runners break through the front line, they’re home free.    

“We are unable to work any traffic, because they have us forward deployed,” the agent said. “We are unable to work the traffic coming out of the mountains. That traffic usually carries weapons and dope, too, again always using stolen vehicles.” 

The Department of Homeland Security denies it has ordered any major change in operations or any sort of change in forward deployment. 

“The Department of Homeland Security has dedicated unprecedented manpower, technology and infrastructure resources to the Southwest border over the course of the past 16 months,” DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said. “Deployment of CBP/Border Patrol and ICE personnel to various locations throughout the Southwest border is based on actionable intelligence and operational need, not which elected official can yell the loudest.” 

While agents in the area agree that southwest Arizona has been a trouble spot for more than a decade, many believe Washington and politicians “who come here for one-day visit” aren’t seeing the big picture. 

They say the area has never been controlled and has suddenly gotten worse, with the cartels maintaining a strong presence on U.S. soil. More than ever, agents on the front lines are wearing tactical gear, including helmets, to protect themselves.

“More than 4,000 of these agents are deployed in Arizona,” Chandler says. “The strategy to secure our nation’s borders is based on a ‘defense in depth’ philosophy, including the use of interior checkpoints, like the one on FR 85 outside Ajo, to interdict threats attempting to move from the border into the interior of our nation.” 

Without placing direct fault on anyone, multiple agents told Fox that the situation is more dangerous for them than ever now that the cartels have such a strong position on the American side of the border. 

They say morale is down among many who patrol the desolate area, and they worry that the situation won’t change until an agent gets killed.