Juveniles have been arrested trying to smuggle drugs into the U.S. in a string of cases in Arizona, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Luring teens to act as drug mules for a few hundred bucks is not a new practice, but the Tucson sector of the border – the nation’s busiest – has seen an alarming jump in the past two years. In 2012, 244 minors faced drug-smuggling charges in the Tucson sector, compared with 122 in 2011. By the end of this May, the number was already 154.
All along the border, officials say minors increasingly are used to traffic hard drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine, not just marijuana, as was mostly the case in the past. “That’s kind of new and alarming,” says Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Drug trafficking organizations lure minors to smuggle drugs with promises of money and assurances that there will be few consequences if they are caught, says Manuel Padilla, chief of the border patrol’s Tucson sector. “The reason they do that is because it’s very difficult to prosecute children or juveniles through the federal system,” he adds.