Drug Traffickers Dupe Job Seekers Into Smuggling
April 10, 2012

Photo by Jill Replogle
This is an ad from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Tijuana newspaper El Mexicano.
They answer advertisements in Tijuana’s major newspapers offering jobs in the U.S., for instance, as house cleaners in San Diego. Or, they respond to ads simply seeking individuals with the proper paperwork to cross the border legally.

Then, some of them get caught at the border with cocaine and marijuana hidden in their cars — without knowing it was there.

Local officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security say they've seen a recent spike in cases of Mexican job seekers lured into transporting drugs across the border without their knowledge.

The U-T San Diego reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have detected 39 such cases in the San Diego border region over the past year. Drivers have been arrested and thousands of pounds of drugs have been confiscated in those cases, according to the U-T.

But U.S. law enforcement — working with its Mexican counterparts — has yet to successfully track one of the ads placed by presumed traffickers back to the source, said Lester Hayes, a supervisory special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

However, this week, the agency started fighting advertising with advertising.

“Agents in my group had the idea of adding our own newspaper ad to the same papers these drug trafficking organizations were using to try and combat what they were doing,” Hayes said.

The ads warn that job offers that involve driving a vehicle across the international border could be traps.

Other cases of inadvertent drug smugglers have been reported along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. Last year, a well-liked El Paso school teacher was caught at the border with 100 pounds of marijuana in two suitcases in her trunk. She said she had no idea how they got there.

Charges against her were dropped after an FBI informant recorded the head of a local drug smuggling ring confessing that he had planted the marijuana in her car. The smugglers would identify reliable border commuters, break into their cars to stash drugs, then pick up the drugs at night on the U.S. side of the border.

Hayes from Homeland Security Investigations said not all of those caught in similar cases at the San Diego border were ignorant of their smuggling role. Some have eventually confessed after initially pleading ignorance.