SENTRI Traveler Busted With $1 Million In Meth
Friday, January 13, 2012
Aired 1/13/12 on KPBS News.
A participant in one of the U.S.' "Trusted Traveler" programs was caught this week trying to cross the border with $1 million worth of methamphetamine hidden in his car.
A 30-year-old U.S. citizen was caught on Jan. 11 trying to smuggle $1 million in meth across the Otay Mesa border into California. He certainly wasn't the first so-called "trusted traveler" to try and slip through on a squeaky clean record.
The man was a participant in the U.S. government's SENTRI program, which offers expedited processing for frequent border crossers considered low-risk. Qualification for the program requires an extensive background check and in-person interview.
Violations at California border crossings, FY2011
Violations by SENTRI holders
Alien Smuggling/ Other Immigration: 3
Agriculture Related: 29
Violations by both SENTRI and non-SENTRI members
Alien Smuggling/ Other Immigration: 37,273
Agriculture Related: 80,950
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Last February, a SENTRI traveler was busted at the Nogales, Arizona crossing with 80 pounds of marijuana hidden in the trunk. And last October, a SENTRI traveler was arrested at the San Ysidro border with 600 pounds of marijuana in the trunk.
Despite these drug seizures from travelers presumed to be "trusted," U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson Jackie Wasiluk says the program works.
While SENTRI travelers made up ten percent of all crossers at California-Mexico borders in 2011, less than one percent of those caught violating immigration and customs laws were SENTRI pass holders.
“So when you’re looking at it in terms of the number of travelers and the number of crossings, they’re accounting for a much, much, much smaller amount of violations,” Wasiluk said.
She added that SENTRI travelers undergo even more random compliance checks than regular travelers.
Still, some drug traffickers have used SENTRI participants' perceived "trusted" status to smuggle merchandise.
Last summer, a drug trafficking scheme was uncovered in Texas, in which traffickers identified regular SENTRI travelers and furtively stashed drugs in their cars in Mexico, to be picked up on the U.S. side.