Border Patrol drug busts often paint a picture of Mexicans smuggling banned substances into the United States. But according to a report released on March 26 by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the border agency actually catches more Americans transporting drugs into the country.
An analysis of records showed that four out of five people, or 80 percent, found with drugs by Border Patrol agents are U.S. citizens, even though 38 percent of the border agency’s press releases mentioned a Mexican drug-trafficking suspect.
Law enforcement officials and Americans who have been nabbed for drug possession said U.S. citizens are often recruited because traffickers believe they will arouse less suspicion from police.
One case involved a U.S. Naval Academy grad who already made five smuggling runs before he was caught at a checkpoint about 80 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in December 2010.
Another case involved an unemployed mechanical engineer who had already made seventeen smuggling runs before a drug-sniffing dog found more than 80 pounds of marijuana stashed in his car in 2011.
The report also revealed that the number of Americans arrested with drugs by the Border Patrol in 2011 is three times more than in 2005.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman William Brooks said that while there were U.S. citizens involved in drug smuggling, many are still Mexicans. But the Border Patrol’s own records showed U.S. citizens are involved in drug trafficking of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine 60 percent more than any other nationality. For marijuana arrests of 1,000 pounds or more, the percentage climbs to more than two-thirds.
As the Border Patrol stepped up security by increasing agents and drug-detecting dogs at checkpoints to catch more smugglers, the traffickers also have changed tactics.
“They know the language. They know the culture. They know the routes,” said Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Rusty Fleming. “And the traffickers have learned the art of breaking down the risk.”