Monday, October 31, 2005
Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin Keep Pouring Across the Border
By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
Sept. 18: 1,300 pounds of marijuana, Hidalgo County. April 8: 10,472 grams of methamphetamine, Luna County.
March 7: 192 pounds of marijuana, Grant County.
The more than 250 border-area drug cases handled by a New Mexico task force as of late September are typed up on 10 pages. And they represent only a fraction of the drugs pouring into this state through its southern border.
The U.S. Border Patrol seized more than $85.4 million worth of weed, cocaine, heroin and other drugs in New Mexico in fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30.
That figure doesn't include the drugs seized by the border task force, which is made up of New Mexico State Police, Border Patrol and other law agencies. The estimated street value of the task force's drug seizures so far this year tops $10.6 million.
By car, on horseback and carried by human "mules," the drugs flow steadily northward.
The massive drug pipeline was one major factor in Gov. Bill Richardson's decision late this summer to declare the southern counties of this state a disaster area and pledge $1.75 million in state aid to border law enforcement.
"You can see from the figures that this area remains a major corridor for narcotics smuggling," said Doug Mosier, an El Paso-based spokesman for the Border Patrol.
"We acknowledge we're not getting all of it," Mosier said of the drugs rolling in from Mexico, though he said he believes the Border Patrol is making a difference.
When asked how much might be slipping across for every batch that is discovered, he said, "We have no way to know."
Data provided by the Border Patrol shows the agency has seized more than $80 million worth of illegal drugs in New Mexico each fiscal year for the past half-decade.
The Border Patrol's busiest drug-seizure year in that span came in fiscal 2004, when it hauled off more than $122.2 million in drugs.
Marijuana is No. 1, followed by cocaine and heroin.
Many of the agency's drug seizures in New Mexico take place at permanent traffic checkpoints, Mosier said. Another common smuggling method: via horseback or on the backs of people hired as drug couriers.
Some smugglers have tried hiding their stash inside fuel trucks. And, last year, a state employee was arrested on suspicion of trying to sneak 293 pounds of marijuana through a border checkpoint in a truck disguised as a state Department of Transportation vehicle.
"There's no shortage of creativity when it comes to smuggling...," Mosier said. "It's a science."
Separate from the Border Patrol seizures are those handled by the border drug task force.
The long list of that task force's drug cases ranges from 1-gram, undercover meth purchases to frequent and massive marijuana finds.
In just one eight-day span in March, for example, the task force seized 963 pounds of marijuana in Hidalgo and Luna counties alone.
The members of the task force say "they're busier than ever now," said Peter Olson, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.