13 On Your Side Exclusive: Teens Smuggling Drugs

13 On Your Side Exclusive Teens...

SAN LUIS, Ariz. - "I got caught with one pound of meth," says San Luis resident Evaristo Pereda. At just 14 years of age, Pereda never thought he would get involved in the illegal drug trade.

Like many other children, drug dealers found him at the San Luis Port of entry.

"They're being approached by strangers or people they don't know and asked to cross something," says Assistant Port Director Miguel Valadez.

That has parents living on the border on high alert and making sure everyday that meth doesn't end up in their child's backpack.

"Once they reach those doors, I can't go past them, but I always tell my daughters that it can happen then and there. I always tell them to remain alert between each other," says one mother from San Luis, Mexico.

She says she's warned her daughter of those preying on children to cross drugs.

 "I always tell my daughters when they cross to always check behind them and their backpacks. Someone could place something inside their backpacks so I make sure to remind them."

More than a 1,000 children cross the San Luis Port of Entry every day to get an American education. What some people don't know is some of those children are getting caught smuggling drugs. Just in 2017, officials seized 80 pounds of drugs from minors throughout Arizona's Port of Entries.

After talking with several parents, school officials and local law enforcement we discovered a lot of the minors involved in the illegal drug smuggling trade are teenagers, some are as little as 12 years old. 

"It happens at the high school level if it's going to happen. It's minimal at the K-12 system," says Gadsden Elementary School District Superintendent Raymond Aguilera.

One teen we talked to said he was offered money and gifts to bring drugs into the U.S. and was told he would only get a slap on the wrist since he was underage.

"It's like any other child you offer them something they like a smart phone," says Valadez.

Even if you're underage, officials say there are still heavy punishments.

"If you get caught with narcotics here at the border you are going to face consequence. The law applies to everybody not just to adults," says Valadez.

In 2016 federal law enforcement arrested 89 minors in Arizona for smuggling drugs compared to 2015 of 122.

"There's a lot of drug trafficking in just about any border," says Aguilera.

Another mom we talked to said her friend's child was arrested for illegal smuggling.

"I have heard of stories. Not too long ago, about a month and a half, a boy was arrested who was a friend of mine's acquaintance. He was arrested for crossing drugs," says Adriana Morales, a San Luis, Mexico resident.

Assistant Port Director Valadez says he's seen children getting arrested first hand.

"We've seen all kinds of reactions from children. We've seen them get aggressive. We've seen them crying," says Valadez.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection the most common drug minors smuggle as of 2016 is meth. Officials say that's because it's easier to hide.

"You can't strap too much drugs to a child;s body because it's going to be noticeable so sometimes they'll put it in their backpacks," says Valadez.

As thousands of children throughout the border continue to cross in the U.S. to get an education, officials on both sides are working to make sure they get a diploma and not a mug shot.

Tomorrow on 13 On Your Side at 4:00 p.m. we speak to a man from San Luis, Ariz who was able to smuggle drugs successfully since he was 14.

In our exclusive report he tells us why he regrets what he did and is warning parents and children in our area. 

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