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Border & Immigration

Border Patrol Trying To Convince Kids From Turning To The Cartels

A growing number of American kids from border towns are being recruited into Mexican drug cartels, lured by the fast money of running narcotics. Now, the U.S. Border Patrol is taking its lessons from inner-city cops and talking to children in school. The message may get through to some students but there are others who have their doubts.

Last spring, a 15-year-old Arizona girl was arrested with five pounds of pot 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, 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.


The film starts off with a threat.

"Only two things can happen, only two things can happen. If you're lucky, you get arrested, you go to jail."

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.

The film continues.

"And if you're not; there's only one thing that can happen. There's gonna be a burial site for you."


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?" he yells at the students. "Easy money. Fast cash. Because there are consequences when you join the drug cartels."

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 jumped 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.

Steve Leininger 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 transporting it for 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," Leniger says.

The film again.

"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." A gunshot echoes through the room.

14 year old Orlando Teer says he's not convinced.

"I don't believe it," Orlando says. "I don't believe that they actually kill people and all that stuff. Once I see it, I'll know what to believe."

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," he says. "I thought when I'd come out, I'd be fine. but it's not that way."

Texas has seen a drop in teenage smugglers. Supporters of the program believe Operation Detour is having an impact there.