Hooked: Battle at the Border, Part 2

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NACO, Ariz. (WAND)- As we drove to the U.S. border with Mexico, Sheriff Mark Dannels stopped his squad car and pointed to a modest home with a detached garage.

Inside the garage, he explained, authorities had uncovered a hydraulic lift and a tunnel running below the border.

Dannels, an Illinois native, is sheriff of Cochise County, a county with 83 miles of international border.

“We have a cartel, the trans-national organization, within a few miles of me that are trying to bring their product into this country,” Dannels said as he drove. “We see marijuana. We see heroin. We see fentanyl. We see cocaine. We see meth.”

Dannels drove our crew to a port of entry, where vehicles and people cross between the United States and Mexico. He pointed out that the Obama Administration had increased defenses here, as part of a federal focus on high-traffic areas like these.

Authorities say hard drugs often pass through those ports of entry, sometimes on the backs of children attending school in the U.S.

“The cartels will try to exploit those kids that are coming across by having them body-carry meth and heroin,” said Leon Wilmot, sheriff of Yuma County to the west. “That’s one of our biggest educational things right now. We’re partnering with not only the folks that work at the port of entry, but border patrol to get into the schools and educate these kids on how best to avoid being used by the cartels.”

After showing our crew the border crossing at Naco, Dannels drove us along the border road to a spot where higher defenses end. Here, fences are much shorter and easy to climb across, though border patrol agents traverse the area.

“Now that we’re far enough away from the port of entry, we have very little protection down here,” Dannels said. “This is where the cartels bring their products and the human smuggling too.”

Dannels and others explained cartels move drugs through a complex system of mules, who carry drugs, and spotters, who keep watch for authorities and communicate with mules through cell phones or other means. Smugglers take drugs to cities in Arizona, then distribute them across the country, Dannels explained.

Despite that sophistication, Dannels and Wilmot say authorities in the U.S. can curb the flow of illegal drugs into the country. Wilmot said, twelve years ago, his county had one of the highest rates of smuggling in the U.S.

“Ever since then, because we were able to put in the infrastructure that we needed (barriers, personnel and electronic surveillance) we were able to do it,” Wilmot said. “We had a dramatic decrease in the activity in Yuma, with a 100 percent prosecution of those that were caught.”

“We’ve got to stand united on this,” Dannels said. “We can’t turn our heads and say it’s not our problem. It’s everybody’s problem.”

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