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Feds battle cartels seeking children for dangerous drug trafficking work

With the recent talk about legalizing marijuana, it is a disturbing reminder to hear about the dangerous activity happening on the U.S.-Mexican border. According to federal agents, teens and children as young as 12 years old are becoming involved in the drug smuggling trade on the U.S.-Mexico border, and may be at risk for recruitments. Last year, 190 teens-ages 18 and younger-were caught smuggling drugs along the San Ysidro-San Diego Country border.

Although this year, according to federal investigators, the number is down to 128 so far, there are other concerning developments. Now, both American and Mexican children are being recruited by cartels as "drug mules." And while recruiters used to target mostly young girls, they're not targeting young girls as well. In addition, the drug of choice has switched from marijuana to methamphetamine.

Since agents began focusing on teen drug smugglers in 2009, cartels have recruited kids wherever they can get them, around schools, arcades, malls, and increasingly through social media. The money children get for taking drug across the border is very small compared to the risk involved, but recruiters entice them by saying that they won't get in serious trouble if they're caught since they're minors. But children can and do get felonies on their records for their involvement. Federal agents have formed a special outreach program to address the problem.

The recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has created a good deal of uncertainty not only in those states, but also in Mexico, where increased calls for marijuana legalization are arising. As it is, drug trafficking on the border is a major problem, and it isn't clear how legalizing marijuana would affect the trade.

Source: NBC, "Teen Recruits Smuggling Drugs Across Border: Feds," Tony Shin and Monica Garske, November 16, 2012.

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