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Growing Number of Kids From Border Towns Recruited into Mexico Drug Cartels

By Michel Marizco

Tucson, AZ – Last spring, a 15-year-old Arizona girl was arrested with five pounds of pot taped taped to her stomach. On the same day, a 16 year old was arrested at the same port with two pounds taped to his leg. Then ANOTHER Arizona boy, 16 years old, was arrested a couple of months later. All three were American citizens.
It's a growing issue in border towns like Tucson, Yuma and San Diego and it's one that the Border Patrol is trying to counter with a school program it calls Operation Detour.
"Only two things can happen, only two things can happen. If you're lucky, you get arrested, you go to jail." (:07)
(Fade in ambient score and run underneath this graf)
That's a graphic film the agents are showing the middle school kids in a Tucson classroom, trying to convince them that the cartels will use them and throw them away.
(Fade out the ambient score).
"And if you're not; there's only one thing that can happen. There's gonna be a burial site for you." (:12)
Steve Saldana is a former schoolteacher turned Border Patrol agent. He says the program started in Texas in 2009 and has been taught about 11,000 students along the border. His booming voice carries across the classroom like that of a drill sergeant.
"These drug cartels are going to paint you a very nice picture. okay? Easy money. Fast cash. Because there are consequences when you join the drug cartels." (:17)
The U.S. Marshal's Service says that for most of 2010, they were housing 20 juveniles a month in Arizona, all serving time on federal felony charges like drug and migrant smuggling. In October, that number dropped to 31.
At the ports in Arizona, the number of teenagers caught smuggling climbed by 50 percent last year. In San Diego, the numbers nearly doubled in 2009.
Dennis Leniger is the principal of La Paloma Academy. He's seeing a commonality at his school, juveniles running loads of dope for other familymembers.
"Kids are transferring it from parents, uncles aunts and basically, those people are being asked to get it from point a to point b and they don't want to be responsible so kids are a lot less of a target than let's say, adults." (:15)
"They might take you to a ranch. torture you for hours until they kill you and you're never heard about again. That's the end of it. There's no return. No return. Gunshot." (:12)
(Fold track of schoolkids talking below and run to end of the story).
14 year old Orlando Teer says he's not convinced.
"I don't believe it. I don't believe that they actually kill people and all that stuff. Once I see it, I'll know what to believe." (:05)
Others weren't so sure.
Joe Fouts is 15 years old. On him - the film had the desired impact.
"I realized what it really is and that i don't want to do any of that stuff; it opened my eyes. i thought when I'd come out, I'd be fine. but it's not that way." (:05)
Texas has seen a drop in teenage smugglers. Supporters of the program believe Operation Detour is having an impact there.
In Tucson, I'm Michel Marizco.