Sheriffs vs drug smugglers on the Arizona / Mexico border

Pima County AZ Sheriff's Deputy Vincent Lopez stands over piles of burlap and potato sacks discarded in the Avra Valley desert. The bags once held bundles of marijuana that were walked across the border from Mexico. (Patrick McNamara/ The Explorer)

The new Arizona immigration law is unfair, biased, and targets the wrong people. That immigrant standing on a street hoping for a job isn’t the problem, but he’s being targeted anyway. But the drug smugglers at the border won’t be affected at all by the law, it’s almost irrelevant to them. And the problem is very real, with fifty pounds loads of marijuana being backpacked across the border.

“They have scouts on every hilltop,” Palmer said. “Every time we’re out there, we’re being watched.”

Border Crime Unit squads regularly intercept radio conversations, where the cartel scouts alert smugglers and their armed guards of Border Patrol and deputies’ movements.

Other times, Border Crime Unit deputies have seen scouts sent out ahead of drug mules to draw out any law enforcement in the area.

The smugglers are heavily armed, have light planes and ATVs as well as trucks and use them to quickly move the marijuana to safe houses, grossing millions of dollars a year.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just legalize marijuana instead?

In three years, the Border Crime Unit has had a measurable impact.

The unit has run more than 1,000 operations, seized 25,000 pounds of marijuana, confiscated $1.1 million in cash, taken 123 stolen vehicles and appropriated 42 weapons.

In addition, the unit has referred nearly 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants to Border Patrol custody, and made 416 felony and misdemeanor arrests.

The law is odious. But the problems at the border are quite real. We need sane laws and real solutions.


  • DJ

    US consumption of marijuana is estimated to be as high as 48 million pounds per year, of which 22 million pounds are produced domestically. That 25,000 pounds they busted in AZ isn’t even a drop in the bucket.

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