Concerned with a steady stream of teenagers caught smuggling drugs into the U.S., federal and state authorities hope new billboards at the border will dissuade other youngsters from making a similar mistake.
A billboard in Tijuana near the port of entry and two in San Ysidro along Interstates 5 and 805 were unveiled Monday.
One reads “Smuggling … not worth it!” with photos of a man with a gun, a teen girl behind bars and a body with a morgue tag hanging from a toe.
Smuggling by teens has increased in the last few years, more than doubling from fiscal 2016 to 2017, from 39 to 99 seizures. This year, seizures are keeping pace to match last year. Fentanyl, a deadly and incredibly potent synthetic heroin, is also being seen in these smuggling attempts like never before, officials said.
“In less than a year, at least 70 juveniles were arrested at the Port of Entry trying to smuggle methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and deadly fentanyl into San Diego County,” Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan said in a statement. “These are young people who are being used by dangerous, organized criminals and who do not fully understand the danger they are putting themselves in and the harm and devastation to potential drug users.”
Authorities say that teens are being recruited with promises of money, new phones and other perks, and that some of the young smugglers say they were threatened with violence by cartels. Many of the teens being recruited live in Mexico but cross the border to attend school in the U.S., officials say
The district attorney’s office is prosecuting the young smugglers, and penalties could include time in juvenile halls. Other consequences that could be longer lasting are the loss of SENTRI cards for the whole family, loss of border-crossing cards and an inability to join the U.S. military or get student loans in the future.
More billboards are slated for Imperial County. The billboards were funded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a federal drug-prohibition enforcement program.
An 18-year-old Tijuana man who attended high school in Chula Vista pleaded guilty Monday for his role in recruiting teen smugglers. Phillip Junior Webb admitted to arranging for smugglers to transport a total of 6.18 kilograms of methamphetamine and 1.2 kilograms of fentanyl on four occasions.
He also admitted to using his car in May to smuggle two immigrants not authorized to be in the U.S.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.