EL CENTRO, Calif. - We’re on Highway 86, between Brawley and Indio, in Imperial County. And just up ahead is the border patrol checkpoint. Let’s take a look at how they help to knock out the narcotics multi-billion dollar business.
Border Patrol El Centro Sector Agent Justin Castrajon explains why they have just pulled over a vehicle.
“The vehicle crossed the primary checkpoint. At that point the k-9 handler and the k-9 had an alert on the vehicle, which means there was a high level of suspicion on the vehicle,” Castrajon said.
He said various things can alert them to a vehicle, but they rely heavily on their K-9 units.
“I wouldn't say there's one signal that's more important than the other. It's going to be up to the agent, their experience, how they're interacting with that person to make that determination. The vehicle was then moved to secondary, where further inspection was conducted by agents and the K-9 handler,” Castrajon said.
“Consent from the driver to search anywhere in the vehicle that we wish to do so. We received consent from the driver to do so,” Castrajon explained.
But, if permission is denied, agents can still proceed with the inspection.
“We did get a K-9 alert, so we have the legal right to enter that vehicle, we have probable cause to enter that vehicle,” Castrajon said.
As a precautionary procedure, the driver is placed in a safe place.
“This driver was also patted down to make sure that he had nothing on himself that can hurt himself or any agent or anybody around here. The license plate was run through a records check to see if there’s anything suspicious with the vehicle. Also, the driver’s information was run through our records check to make sure he didn’t have any warrants that were outstanding, anything like that,” Castrajon said.
We asked where agents look for illegal drugs.
“The vehicle is being inspected anywhere that illegal contraband can be hidden. There's not one specific area that it's hidden in, but anywhere in the vehicle,” Castrajon said.
Border Patrol has found drugs in the most unimaginable places in vehicles, even strapped to the bodies of drivers or passengers. First, they look in the usual places.
“If a tire, a general tire, is just filled with air, it will have a certain level of density. A lot of times, smugglers, drug smugglers, will hide narcotics and illegal contraband within the tire, that's when we'll pick up a higher density. The trunk is another common place that smugglers use to hide narcotics. Anywhere in the vehicle is a place of interest for us,” Castrajon explained.
The K-9 units are highly trained for detection of any illegal substance. They can even detect residuals. They stay involved throughout the inspection.
“If the driver touched marijuana at some point and then went ahead and opened the vehicle door, the K-9 would also pick up on that,” Castrajon pointed out.
The driver of the vehicle pulled over admits having used drugs recently. He’s released because there were no drugs present at the time in the vehicle. He receives an explanation of why he was pulled over and released.
“Upon questioning the driver in secondary, the driver did admit that there was marijuana smoked in the vehicle two days prior. That’s what the K-9 was picking up.”
Castrejon said checkpoints are part of a multi-layer of national security.
“As a nation, yes, we are receiving constant threats from narcotics being smuggled into the united states and through the united states,” Castrejon said.
But, are we winning or losing the war on narcotics? Castrejon said it’s hard to tell.
“Narcotics are ever changing. They’ve become more synthetic. Narcotics like that are posing a great threat to our youth,” Castrejon said.
It’s the end of his shift. Agent Castrejon is proud of his work. And he’s ready to go home.
“It’s a job that I can come to every day and feel proud and very dedicated in our mission of stopping illegal immigration, illegal narcotics, terrorists and terrorists weapons from entering our nation,” Castrejon concluded.