Ban sought on unaccompanied minors crossing the border

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 10:47 pm | Updated: 10:51 pm, Tue Feb 11, 2014.
By Cesar Neyoy

SAN LUIS, Ariz. – A city councilman wants the U.S. port of entry to stop unaccompanied youths from entering the country, as a way to fight drug smuggling.

City Councilman Marco Pinzon says he wants a meeting with federal officials to discuss enforcing such a restriction. But a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the agency can’t bar minors from crossing the border, because no law gives it that authority.

The issue arose last month when David Lara, a San Luis resident and community activist, appeared before the council to present concerns that youth who cross from Mexico to attend schools in the Arizona border city are being recruited by drug traffickers to carry drugs. He called on the San Luis Police Department to join with school districts and police from neighboring San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., in a coordinated campaign to prevent the use of minors as drug “mules.”

Pinzon in an interview said the police department has long been been aware of minors carrying across the border. In fact, he said, the problem led to creation in 2010 of its K-9 program, which pairs narcotics detection dogs with officers who walk a beat in the city.

But ultimately, he said, the solution lies with federal officials who oversee the staffing and operation of the border crossing.

“The question is why the federal government allows those youths to cross when they are not accompanied by their parents or an adult,” Pinzon said. “While that continues, so will the danger that they will be used to cross drugs.”

“It’s an issue for which we’re seeking a meeting with them and, if necessary, to put pressure at the federal level and with lawmakers” to revise policy to prevent minors from crossing the border alone.

Teresa Small, a supervisor at CBP at the San Luis port, said the agency looked forward to discuss city officials’ concerns with them. But she said existing law allows unescorted minors to enter the country if they have property issued border crossing documents.

Only if a minor is carrying a fraudulent document can he or she be detained, Small said.

“Our hands are tied,” she said. “We can only do what the law allows us to do.”

Small said CBP officers at San Luis keep an eye out for drug smugglers among border crossers in all age groups.

Apart from efforts to stop drugs at the border, she said, CBP and the Border Patrol also visit Yuma-area junior high and high schools to talk about to students about the dangers of getting involved in drug traffickers in Mexico.