By Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2019

Homeland Security agents nabbed a group of illegal immigrants in remote Arizona this week and found the guide was carrying a large supply of methamphetamine, in what authorities described as a growing — and worrying — trend.

While marijuana is regularly snuck across the border on foot, hard narcotics have traditionally been smuggled through the ports of entry, usually concealed in cars or even strapped, in small amounts, to a pedestrian’s body.

But authorities said Wednesday’s attempt was the second meth-carrying backpacker caught in southeastern Arizona last month.

“It is becoming more common for smugglers to backpack hard narcotics through remote parts of the desert on routes historically used for marijuana trafficking,” Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

Border Patrol agents were alerted to the incident after a group of eight people was spotted on mobile surveillance walking in a remote area on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. Agents arrived to find tracks of the group and figured out the group was headed for the Mesquite Mountains.

Agents spotted some backpacks left under a tree and called for a CBP helicopter to assist. It spotted one of the migrants near some backpacks, and agents then found five others.

Two migrants appear to have eluded them.

When agents took inventory they discovered one of the backpacks was different — it had a rectangular shape and contained plastic containers inside. They turned out to be filled with 11.712 kilograms of meth, the agents reported.

Five of the people nabbed were identified as normal illegal immigrants, including four from Guatemala and one from Ecuador.

The other person was identified as Juan Antonio Medrana-Beharano, a Mexican, whom the migrants fingered as their foot guide and the one who had carried the meth.

The migrants told agents that during their trek they had gotten upset at Mr. Medrana-Beharano because he kept eating their food and never opened his own pack.

At nearly $5,000 per pound, the meth would have had a street value of more than $100,000.

CBP didn’t report on the prices the migrants were paying, but the average payment for a Guatemalan being smuggled through Arizona, according to court records tracked by The Washington Times, is more than $7,800 per person.