NOGALES, Arizona – Arizona has become a major point of entry for drugs into the United States, and every day Customs and Border Protection agents must deal with the ingenious ways drug traffickers conceal their goods.
“Organized crime is evolving and just as they evolve, we must also evolve. We have to keep figuring out their tricks, because as soon as we discover one method they’re using, they’re already working on another,” said Marcia Armendariz, spokeswoman for CBP in Nogales.
At the ports of entry at Nogales, Mariposa and DeConcini, drugs have been detected in all kinds of hiding places – gas tanks, car seats, oxygen cylinders, fire extinguishers, radiators, secret compartments, ice trays, baby cribs and Coca-Cola bottles full of marijuana.
“See, what they did is cut the bottles to give the box a double bottom, and here underneath you can see the drug, and out of 50 to 100 cartons, no more than 10 to 15 are carrying drugs,” a CBP agent, who asked not to be identified, said as he showed his discovery.
In one search of cars coming from Mexico, agents found the car battery hollowed out to have a space for hiding drugs.
“And to start the car, they installed a small motorcycle battery that provided the needed electricity. These people have to know all about mechanics, seat covers, soldering, everything,” the agent said.
So far this year, 137 people have been arrested at Arizona’s ports of entry for smuggling drugs, while more than 20 tons of marijuana, 308 kilos (678 lbs.) of cocaine, 315 kilos (693 lbs.) of methamphetamine and 85 kilos (187 lbs.) of heroin have been seized, along with more than $1.5 million in cash.
To try and reduce the drug trafficking, two weeks ago construction began on a new X-ray system known as Z-Portal, a tool scheduled to start operating by late April at the DeConcini Port of Entry.
“It is safe for the operator and the driver,” Armendariz said. “The X-ray dosage is very low.”