San Diego

More Teens Being Recruited to Smuggle Drugs into U.S.

More teens and young adults are being caught by immigration officers trying to smuggle drugs through the San Ysidro Port of Entry and the numbers are increasing.

Teen smuggling has more than doubled from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017, according to Customs Border Protection. The numbers increased from 39 to 99 seizures.

In March alone, CBP officers stopped three teenagers with $150,000 worth of the drugs strapped to their bodies.

One teen, whom we’ll call David, was one such smuggler.

“He asked me if I wanted to work, if I wanted to cross drugs, and I said, ‘Yeah,’” he said.

That’s how he got started. David was 19 at the time and going to school in San Ysidro looking for what he thought was easy money.

“I just wanted to get it because I could go party with it,” he said. “My parents, yeah, they gave me a roof, food and everything but they wouldn’t give me money for party.”

The lure of easy money is how drugs smugglers recruit teenagers to become drug mules.

“These kids are 14, 15, 16, 17 years old,” Assistant U. S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson told NBC 7 in May. “They don’t look at the big picture.”

A high school senior pleaded guilty last week for recruiting classmates at Castle Park Highs School to smuggle drugs into the United States from Mexico.

The problem isn’t isolated to one high school in the South Bay. Other high schools in the area are also affected, Hobson said.

There were two ways to smuggle drugs through the San Ysidro Port of Entry: with marijuana attached to the body by foot or hidden somewhere in the car, allowing David to cross up to 40 kilos.

“I was getting paid about $2,500 bucks each trip, so about a 10 percent of the drug value,” he said.

David said he did it at least 30 times until he was caught by immigration officers.

“They got me off the car, they searched the car and they found that I was carrying about 50 kilos of marijuana,” he said.

David was convicted and sentenced to two years and four months in federal prison. He never heard from his friend again.

“It was hell,” he said of prison. “They went by slow. You were lonely, basically, because other prisoners are not your friends either. They are just there because they are there.”

The consequences, however, didn’t stop with his sentence. His family lost their Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI Card, and a lot of money that went to pay for his legal defense.

Moreover, David is now a convicted criminal.

With a criminal record, “you are going to have a lifetime of problems,” Hobson said.

Hobson said the USAO is working with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office to examine how teens are recruited in schools.

Her office also wants to make parents and teachers aware of the growing problem so they can look out for vulnerable students who may be swayed by the lure of easy money.

For his part, David now says he regretted everything.

“I regret doing it since the first time I ever did it,” he said. “Why? Because my record. My record got screwed and I was very young at that time and I screwed up my life basically."

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