Pubdate: Tue, 06 Nov 2001
Source: Sun Herald (MS)
Copyright: 2001 The Sun Herald
Author: Chris Roberts, The Associated Press


Higher Security Means More Hauls

EL PASO, Texas - At the Santa Fe International Bridge in El Paso, 
customs inspectors looking for terrorists are flinging open hoods and 
trunks, knocking on body panels and getting down on their hands and 
knees to peek under vehicles.

Last week, inspectors dug out nearly 50 packages of pot, weighing a 
total of 70 pounds, from a false gas tank in a shiny Toyota Tercel.

The seizure illustrates what Customs Service and Border Patrol 
officials are seeing: Drug smugglers are getting back to business, 
and drug seizures are up sharply, after a lull prompted by the 
stepped-up security along the U.S.-Mexican border that followed the 
terrorist attacks.

Investigators believe smugglers are trying to push more drugs across 
the border to make up lost profits, and are getting caught by the 
tighter security.

"They're desperate," said Carlos Quevedo, a spokesman for the Border 
Patrol's McAllen, Texas, sector. "They don't even care if it's 
daylight. They just want to get lucky."

Before Sept. 11, most cars were waved through border checkpoints. 
Now, since border officials went to the highest level of alert, 
nearly every vehicle gets looked over. Inspections include an 
examination of the trunk and the engine compartment.

In the two weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks, drug 
seizures along the 1,962-mile U.S.-Mexico border fell 80 percent 
compared with the same period last year. But the trend has since 

Drug smugglers "decided to wait it out, hoping it would go back to 
the way it was, and that hasn't happened," said Vincent Bond, customs 
spokesman in Southern California. So "they decided to risk the 
increased scrutiny."

Customs Service seizures of marijuana between Sept. 24 and Oct. 25 
are up anywhere from 58 percent along the South Texas border to 394 
percent in Arizona. Altogether, more than 32,000 pounds were 
confiscated in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

In Southern California, where the records are kept differently, an 11 
percent increase in marijuana seizures was recorded in the first 25 
days of October. Nearly 31,500 pounds were seized.

The situation is similar at the U.S.-Canadian border, though the 
seizures are in far smaller quantities than at the Southwest border, 
said Dean Boyd, a customs spokesman in Washington. The Canadian 
border is not as closely guarded as the nation's southern edge.

Smuggling from Canada often involves a potent marijuana referred to 
as "B.C. bud" because some of it is grown in British Columbia. 
Customs officials seized 980 pounds of the pot, worth as much as $8 
million, on Oct. 3 in Blaine, Wash., Boyd said.

Marijuana smugglers are in a bind because the end of September marked 
their harvest and dealers are eager to move old supplies, Boyd said. 
Increased scrutiny of U.S. airspace means flying drugs into the 
United States is no longer a good option, he said.

"They owe people and they need to get it to market," Boyd said.

Cocaine is the second most commonly seized drug, though in far less 
gaudy amounts. For every Southwest border state except Arizona, 
seizures increased between Sept. 24 and Oct. 25 compared with the 
same period last year.

In South Texas, Customs officials have netted 378 percent more 
cocaine. "I guess they're trying to move what they held back," said 
Rick Pauza, a customs spokesman in South Texas.

Bond said smugglers entering Southern California are picking the 
busiest checkpoints, "trying to be a very small needle in a very 
large haystack."

Others are searching for ways around official checkpoints. In 
Arizona, smugglers are using backpacks or pack horses to avoid 
official border crossings. That means Border Patrol agents also are 
picking up narcotics.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh