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DIGGING DEEPER: Anti-cartel classes taught in Nogales schools

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Kids as young as 12 years old are being recruited by cartels to do their dirty work.

Now there's a special program that Border Patrol is bringing into middle schools to combat the problem.

"Cartels are using our youth to guard stash houses, as well as smuggle drugs and people," said Agent Alan Regalado. "It's not only smuggling narcotics and weapons north, but it's also smuggling money and weapons south."

In February at the Interstate-19 checkpoint, a 19-year-old attempted to smuggle meth in a speaker that was in the trunk of a car. That same week an 18-year-old also attempted to smuggle meth.

Just last month, two 13-year-olds were among those apprehended. In addition, 23 undocumented immigrants were found in the trailer of semi-truck.

"It's real easy to convince a young person to take part in these criminal activities, especially when you promise them little to no consequences with monetary gain," Regalado said.

Earlier this year, a teenager was caught trying smuggle bags of fentanyl strapped to his thighs.

"It's so dangerous," Regalado said. "Kids are forced to it because once you say yes, you do what they tell you to do."

Nogales School Superintendent Fernando Parra was a high school principal when Border Patrol first rolled out 0peration Detour in 2009.

"Informing the students of the possibilities they could be approached and also the consequences and what could happen to students themselves, but to their parents," Parra said.

Regalado gave those presentations, but he soon realized he needed to reach the students at an earlier age. That was when he developed a class called Together Educating and Mentoring Kids or T.E.A.M. Kids for fifth graders.

"Feed them this information before they get to middle school and high school so they can utilize this material to make better decisions," he said.

Superintendent Parra supports both programs.

"The dangers do exist," he said. "I think anything that we can do to educate our students in the best possible ways in the dangers of this situation is very much welcomed."

Welcomed by the teachers and the parents this year, Regalado will be handling the four-week team kids program a little bit differently.

"The Border Patrol is ahead of the game, right now," he said. "We have a lot of material that includes video footage and PowerPoint where we are able to reach these students in these school virtually."

An invaluable lesson the students will take with them even after they are out of school.

"We want to prevent crime," he said. "We want to lead these students into a better future."

He said he hopes to get this program into all the schools in Arizona and eventually nationwide.

There is another component to this, a program for parents that shows them what signs to look for and what to do if they suspect their child is involved with drug cartels.

Border Patrol asked, if you are a parent or school administrator interested in these programs, please feel free to email the Tucson Sector Border Patrol at tca-pao@cbp.Dhs.Gov.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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