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Cartels are Shifting from Smuggling Drugs to Smuggling People, Anti-Smuggling Unit Explains Why

The cartels “contract” drivers to pick illegal aliens up at the border and drive them into the interior of the U.S., Deputy Sheriff Mark Terry, who serves on the Pinal County Anti-Smuggling Unit, told The Daily Signal.
Tim Kennedy/The Daily Signal
Tim Kennedy/The Daily Signal

By: Virginia Allen, The Daily Signal

The border is “open,” according to Detective Shawn Wilson. Despite working 80 miles from the border of Mexico in the Tucson Sector of Arizona, Wilson, a member of the Pinal County Anti-Smuggling Unit, regularly encounters illegal aliens and smugglers passing through the county.

Wilson says the smugglers’ strategy has changed in recent years.

Over the last few years, “human smuggling has increased dramatically,” Wilson told The Daily Signal during a recent ride-along. “Before, you’d see … a little bit [of] human smuggling and mainly marijuana. But now there’s hardly any marijuana or drugs, and it’s mainly human smuggling.”

At least two incentives are driving the change, according to Wilson: money and police penalties.

“People want to come and the cartels, and people down in Mexico who are making the money, they see the opportunity to increase their annual income,” he said. There are also less severe prison terms or penalties for smuggling people “than if you were smuggling methamphetamine or fentanyl,” the detective explained, “so there’s a lot less risk to it and a lot more money.”

The cartels “contract” drivers to pick illegal aliens up at the border and drive them into the interior of the U.S., Deputy Sheriff Mark Terry, who also serves on the Pinal County Anti-Smuggling Unit, told The Daily Signal.

The cartels “go on social media and they’ll basically put a job offering a certain amount of money to just take people from point A to point B,” Terry said. “That money can go for between $500 per person to $1,000 per person.”

When Terry and Wilson pull over vehicles in Pinal County they suspect might be involved in human smuggling, they often encounter illegal aliens from all over the world.

Nationals from Pakistan, Iraq, and India represent a sampling of the aliens officers have encountered being smuggled through their county. When the officers stop vehicles smuggling illegal aliens, they contact Border Patrol to come detain them because local law enforcement does not have the authority to arrest illegal aliens.

Yet Border Patrol agents who used to be patrolling in the field have now been moved to the border to process illegal aliens, Terry and Wilson lamented.

“The numbers that are coming through the border right now are so high that they need everybody there to help with that,” Terry said. “So, if we pull someone over on the freeway here … sometimes they can’t come because they’re all busy at the border.”

When Border Patrol cannot respond in a timely manner, “we just have to let them go,” Wilson said.

The influx of people crossing the border illegally into the Tucson Sector, where Pinal County is located, led the sector’s chief patrol agent, John R. Modlin, to announce Sunday that “all Tucson Sector Border Patrol social media accounts will be temporarily reduced to maximize our available staffing in support of our current operational challenges.”

Modlin wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Nov. 24 that his agents encountered 15,300 illegal aliens during the previous week, an increase of 1,000 over the week prior.

In the Tucson Sector, authorities encountered 373,625 illegal aliens in fiscal year 2023, which ended Sept. 30. In the month of October, Customs and Border Protection encountered a record 55,224 illegal aliens.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb told The Daily Signal in an interview that “the cartels are very savvy to what politics are in the country” because their “business” is affected by it.

“These are billion-dollar businesses,” Lamb said of the cartels, adding that in the same way a “business like Amazon or Walmart” takes politics into account, the cartels do as well.

“The cartels are animals,” the sheriff said, adding that “they will take advantage of our weak border security policies and they will abuse people that are coming here to make a better life.”

At the end of the day, the federal government is the only entity that can stop the flow of illegal aliens into America, according to Lamb, “because this is their job. So, [President] Joe Biden, do your job. And [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas, do your job. Secure our southern border and protect the American people and start putting America first and Americans first.”

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