For more than a year, the closure of the southern border to non-essential traffic has sharply reduced the number of foreign nationals entering the US by land. The rules have been extended until at least June 21, but Mexican officials allow most US citizens to walk or drive south across the border with relative ease.
Law enforcement officials and drug trafficking experts say border rules – enacted to curb the spread of the coronavirus in April 2020 – and their unilateral enforcement are driving a rise in US citizens involved in border drug busts. However, Mexican smugglers have long recruited Americans for jobs.
US citizens were apprehended nearly seven times more often for trying to smuggle drugs in vehicles than Mexican citizens between October 2020 and March 31, US Customs and Border Protection data show. In the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, Americans were caught almost twice as often as Mexicans.
“Since cross-border travel has shifted to essential travel only, criminal organizations have also shifted their operations,” the agency said in a recent statement. It noted that it is increasingly seizing drugs smuggled by US citizens and commercial trucks during the epidemic. Both groups are exempt from restrictions on US land borders.
Despite early pandemic disruptions to the global drug trade, illegal substances are pouring into the US – the world’s biggest consumer. Customs and border security say narcotics seizures increased slightly on the US-Mexico border in the 2021 fiscal year, while the US Department of Homeland Security said Mexican smugglers’ ability to carry drugs into the country was “quite The extent remains intact.”
Most illegal drugs, especially narcotics, enter the US at the southern border. Trafficking experts say Americans are key to these operations.
“The perception is that American citizens are given less scrutiny by the Border Patrol and CBP,” said Michael Corbett, a 30-year-old drug enforcer and now a narcotics expert witness in the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs smuggling is a risk management enterprise. They are exploring whatever methods they can to move drugs across the border as safely and efficiently as possible.”
Victor Manzarez, former chief of the Border Patrol area in El Paso and Tucson, said, “The use of US citizens is a sort of ups and downs.
“Drug organizations … are much more efficient at changing than the government,” said Manzarez, who is now a professor of border and national security at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Customs and Border Protection figures show that the agency seized about 92,000 pounds (41,730 kg) of drugs from vehicles at southern ports of entry between October 2020 and May.
By the end of March, US citizens had been apprehended for drug trafficking nearly 2,400 times during inspections of vehicles crossing those checkpoints. In comparison, during the same period only 361 such apprehensions involved Mexican citizens, who generally rank second – behind Americans – for drug trafficking at ports of entry.
Arrests of US citizens who bring drugs into their bodies have also increased. In the first four months of fiscal year 2021, 505 Americans were arrested at southern checkpoints with drugs concealed in their bodies, compared to 35 in all other countries during the same period.
Although illicit substances brought by that type of courier represent only a fraction of the overall drugs crossing into the US, those apprehensions in fiscal year 2018 between US citizens and non-citizens are 467 versus 386, respectively, on customs and customs. was more balanced. Shows protection data.
The feared numbers for American and Mexican citizens caught driving drugs across the border in recent years were also not as far off as this year – 1,693 versus 793 in 2018 and 2,694 versus 1,218 in 2019, respectively.
Experts say that in many cases, drug couriers in the US are recruited for a one-time payment for running cross-border shipments.
Ytziri Barboza was one. In March, the 24-year-old from Houston was arrested after X-rays and further inspection at a port of entry in Laredo, Texas, found about 127 pounds (58 kilograms) of liquid methamphetamine concealed in the SUV’s gas tank. was revealed. She was driving, court documents said.
According to a criminal complaint, Barboza told law enforcement officers that he was supposed to drive the shipment to an undisclosed location in Houston in exchange for $10,000.
Mrina Montemayor, a public defender representing Barboza, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Similarly, 23-year-old Mike Mendoza of Houston was also arrested in February after border agents stopped him while driving a pickup truck with 132 pounds (60 kg) of meth on the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge in Laredo. According to a criminal complaint. Officials estimate the street value of the drugs at $360,000.
Abundio René Cantu, a lawyer representing Mendoza, said he believed his client was offered a reward “in the thousands of dollars”. He denied knowing which Mexican criminal organization had recruited Mendoza, who was working in construction.
“It was not something he was regularly involved in,” Cantu said of Mendoza, who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in March. “But generally… people can sometimes find themselves in a bind. And so they get stuck with someone who knows someone from a Mexican organization, and they engage in this type of activity. Offer money to be.”
Cantu estimates that the number of cases of US citizens facing drug trafficking charges has doubled since 2019. He largely attributes the partial closure of the border.
“This opportunity to receive new recruits is still open,” he said. “US citizens … people who are struggling financially who will be allowed in.”