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Southern Arizona officials say smugglers using social media to recruit minors

Smugglers using social media to target juveniles
Smugglers using social media to target juveniles(Cochise County Sheriff)
Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 8:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Law enforcement agencies in Southern Arizona are seeing a dangerous new trend, that has led to serious injuries, and even death.

“This is a trend that we’ve seen over the last few months,” says Jesus Vasavilbaso with Border Patrol. “Smuggler organizations are utilizing social media to attract, or to get people to smuggle for them. So especially youth, teenagers or minors.”

And it’s a trend we’re seeing in our own backyard. The latest incident happened Monday night, when a 100 mph chase in Cochise County led to a 16-year-old and 17-year-old arrested, with four undocumented immigrants in the car.

“We’ve seen a trend of people out of the Phoenix area where youth is being recruited so they’re borrowing somebody’s car--either their mom, their grandparents, they’re driving down to the border, and they’re picking up people that they don’t even know and they’re getting paid for it,” says Vasavilbaso.

They’re doing it all for some quick cash. And Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels says it’s not just social media responsible. He says the word of easy money is even spreading through high schoolers.

“They get $1,000 on average per UDA, so you pick up 4 and that’s $4,000. Very lucrative to them, or anybody in that case. And so they come down, they wait, they go pick them up along the highways and then they’re told go 100 mph+, just get out of Cochise County,” says Dannels.

With young, inexperienced drivers who don’t consider the consequences, roadways have become dangerous. Sheriff Dannels says the pursuits are the worst he’s seen in his nearly 38 years in law enforcement.

“They get sold the idea, just because they’re minors they’re not going to be charged. That is not the case most of the time,” says Vasavilbaso.

“Last night, we remanded the 16-year-old as an adult into the adult courtroom...it’s a very serious offense. It’s a very dangerous situation when you have our youth out there doing this, and it’s just sad,” says Dannels.

Law enforcement agencies have now teamed up to crack down on smuggling, from educational awareness, to enforcement. But both Dannels and Vasavilbaso agree being aware of where your children are and what they are doing on social media is key.

“It’s a very dangerous game. So parents work with us in law enforcement. We’re trying to do our part. We’re asking you to do your part.”

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