Drug smugglers are increasingly recruiting teenage students to bring drugs across the Mexican border, taping marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine to their bodies, according to federal officials.
Officials have caught three times as many teenage drug mules this year compared to last, and have taken startling pictures of the youngsters with drugs strapped to their backs.
She said there has been a 300% increase at the Otay Mesa port of entry.
Students are recruited at schools and parties, offered $100 to $200 per run, officials said. Drug smugglers convince the teens that they won't get in trouble because they're minors. They provide loose-fitting clothing to conceal the drugs during the border cross.
"Quick cash, no consequences, and that's just not true," said De Cima.
In fact, the juveniles face transportation and possession with intent to sell charges. The penalty could include a trip to juvenile hall and possible time in a youth prison.
Amy Isackson, who has followed this story for KPBS, spoke with a teen who talked about the smuggling as a status symbol.
"She was saying you get new stuff, she talked about her friend who was getting new purses, but she was also talking about this cultural aspect: that it's really seen as 'in' and its seen as 'cool’,” Isackson said.
Students at schools in San Ysidro have been recruited and caught, according to border officials. They're now putting together an education campaign designed to warn students of the consequences.