HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug Smugglers Returning To Borders
Pubdate: Tue, 06 Nov 2001
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Register-Guard
Author: Chris Roberts, The Associated Press


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 that smugglers are trying to push more drugs across 
the border to make up lost profits and are getting caught by the tighter 

"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 vehicles were waved through border checkpoints. Now, 
since border officials went to the highest level of alert, nearly every 
vehicle gets checked. Inspections include an examination of the trunk and 
the engine compartment.

In the two weeks immediately after 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 reversed.

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.

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.
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