San Diego – The number of minors transporting drugs across the Mexico-U.S. border continues to rise, as does the number of "blind mules" who transport dope without their knowledge, activists said.
In 2011 some 190 minors were arrested for trying to bring drugs across the border, an increase of 13 percent over 2010, according to official figures. Some 33 young people have been arrested so far this year.
These youths are "cheap, plentiful and disposable labor for drug traffickers," Victor Clark Alfaro, a professor at San Diego State University, who also heads the Tijuana-based Binational Human Rights Center, told Efe.
Clark Alfaro said that since the new terminal was built at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the main crossing between Tijuana and San Diego, his organization has observed an increase in attempts to smuggle drugs across the border using different mechanisms.
While mules are mainly pedestrians, traffickers have noted that for vehicular crossings U.S. Customs and Border Protection now have a lower, slower capacity for making secondary searches, making it more difficult to get through, so they're trying more daring methods.
"We have numerous cases of 'blind mules' in cars. These are people who cross the border frequently and traffickers put drugs in their cars without them knowing it. If they get past the border guards successfully, the traffickers follow them to where they're going to park," he said.
Clark Alfaro said he testified in court recently in the case of one of his SDSU students who said she had gone through that experience after visited her boyfriend in Tijuana and was arrested when they found 35 kilos (77 pounds) of marijuana in her car.
As for the witting mules who cross on foot, what drug traffickers say to convince them are always the same promises - that nothing will happen to them and at most they'll be deported after days or weeks in a juvenile detention center.
"The teens traditionally come from disfunctional families, are paid little money, as in the case of another teenage girl who was stopped on her third trip carrying 4 kilos (8 1/2 pounds) of cocaine taped to her body. For her first two attempts she received $1,000, a tiny amount compared to the drug's street price," Clark Alfaro said.
Drug traffickers tend to pick out youths who cross the border to study, many with dual citizenship, or who travel to see their families or to go shopping, the expert said.
"For those who are arrested there's no second chance, they're just spent cartridges, they lose the documents they need to cross the border," he said.
According to Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee, drug traffickers' favorite places to recruit young smugglers are the high schools of southern San Diego County.