Posted: July 22, 2008 06:00 PM CDT

U.S. Citizens Caught at I-19 Border Patrol Check Point

KOLD News 13 Reporter, Suleika Acosta

The border checkpoints like the one on I-19 near Green Valley are catching more than illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. They're nabbing more U.S. Citizens involved in crime, one way or another.

Thirty miles from the border, everyday hundreds of people travel through the I-19 checkpoint. As Border Patrol agents are on the look out for drugs and illegal immigrants, they're catching more American criminals coming through.

"Smugglers use this route commonly, they funnel in on this route because it's the fastest and most direct route," says Tucson Sector Border Patrol Agent Mike Scioli.

Agents stop drivers heading northbound, looking for red flags like stolen cars and illegal immigrants. A trained canine alerts agents if drugs are in a vehicle coming through.

"Arrests we do in the thousands here of illegal immigrant. It's such a factor and definitely an asset to our sector here. This checkpoint, words can't describe how important it is to us."

In the last nine months alone, agents have seized 20,000 pounds of marijuana at the checkpoint, putting a dent in smuggling organizations. But agents are seeing a disturbing new trend.

This year Border Patrol has seen a spike in Americans caught smuggling drugs or people across the border.

Agents say Michael Thomas was driving through the checkpoint Saturday when they found 180 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. A fingerprints check revealed Thomas was a registered sex offender.

In the last few months 160 U.S. citizens have been arrested at the check point, many were fugitives. ... v=menu86_2