Cash, drug seizures up at ports of entry

Cash, drug seizures up at ports of entry

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: Sergio Avila
Web Producer: Laura Rios

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Arizona has become the center of debate in the smuggling of both people and drugs.  That has prompted the federal government to increase the amount of money and resources it is sending to the border to help fight the criminal organizations responsible.

Local authorities say it's making a difference.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Spokesman Brian Levin says the agency has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of cash being seized at ports of entry.

In 2010, CBP seized about $7.3 million.  In 2009, they nabbed nearly $5 million, and in 2008, just about $1 million.

"What we're looking at here is something that's definitely going to hurt them," he said. "How much it's going to hurt them, I don't know, but every dollar we take from them affects their ability to operate."

That money is typically believed to be headed straight into the pockets of Mexican drug cartels, but Levin says it's hard to tell its exact destination.

"Primarily, we're looking at the drug cartels, but it's also for those organizations maybe involved in alien smuggling, it could be going out to terrorist organizations, it could be going out to any sort of transnational criminal organization," said Levin.

Last year also saw an increase in drug seizures at ports of entry.  CBP officers seized about 123,000 pounds, compared to 105,000 pounds in 2009.

Levin says an increase in technology, infrastructure and manpower is helping officers catch criminals and their contraband.

But if the agency is seeing more seizures, how does CBP respond to critics who say the border is nowhere near secure?

"We have more resources out here than we've ever had in the past and you can see we're having an impact," explained Levin. "You can see that we're intercepting and seizing more narcotics, we're stopping more alien smuggling attempts, we're intercepting the bulk currency and weapons smuggling going out of here."

But there has been an alarming trend at the ports.  Levin says officers have seen a huge number of minors being used to smuggle drugs.  He says cartels are recruiting girls as young as ten-years-old.

Still, Levin says CBP feels they are doing a much better job keeping smugglers off balance and making criminals adapt to the latest levels of enforcement.