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Mexican drug cartels recruiting American teens, children for smuggling

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using children, young adults and teens from Southern California to smuggle drugs across the border and carry out other illicit work for the criminal enterprises. As a result, more than 5,000 young people, most of them Latinos, have been held in San Diego County jails over the last two years.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Many of the youthful recruits were involved in street gangs. Many of the crimes that landed them behind bars included assaults, robbery, drug trafficking or consumption. Their close physical close proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border made it easier for them to fall prey to the advances of the Mexican drug cartels.

According to The National Post, children as young as 11 years old, called "the expendables" are recruited to smuggle drugs across the border because it is believed they'll attract less law enforcement attention than adults.

According to Pedro Ríos, an activist with the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee, kids can earn up to $400 per trip smuggling drugs across the border. Young people also are recruited by human traffickers to escort undocumented immigrants from the border to safe houses.

A report by the Children's Rights Network in Mexico estimates that 30,000 Mexicans under the age of 18 are in the employ of Mexico's numerous drug cartels.

According to the report, children and adolescents working with drug cartels are part of every stage on the drug trafficking process, from street sales to the smuggling and distribution.

"Children are involved in various forms including drug trafficking, kidnappings, extortions, smuggling, piracy, corruptions, etc. . The youngest ones work as vigilantes and the older ones work with the drug trafficking. Once they are 16 years old, they are usually hired as paid assassins. Girls are usually involved with the drug packaging.

"Cartels use these juveniles, telling them, 'Nothing is going to happen to you because you're a juvenile. Here's some quick cash,'" Angelica De Cima, a U.S. Customs spokeswoman says. "These kids are putting themselves at risk and they don't understand the consequences."

However - when these underage criminals are arrested, they face punishment ranging from probation to 15 months in a juvenile camp. Some who are legal, permanent residents, but not U.S. citizens can also be deported.

"The recruitment of children and adolescents can be explained, in part because children under 14 have constitutional immunity against being held criminally responsible for their actions, even for the crimes of murder, kidnapping and torture," according to Borderland Beat blog.

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