Drug Smuggling at the US-Mexico Border is Going Un-Prosecuted

By Seth Ferranti 06/13/16

The process of catching drug smugglers at the border and setting them free may be more common than you think. 

Drug Smuggling at the US-Mexico Border is Going Un-Prosecuted
The US-Tijuana border via Seth Ferranti

Donald Trump might plan to build a wall if he is elected president, but currently it's estimated that only 1-10% of the drugs being smuggled into the United States are being caught at the border. As addiction and consumption run rampant in the U.S., drug cartels pump heroin, meth and cocaine into our country, leading to prohibition-related violence on both sides of the border and a thriving, corrupt criminal underworld on the Mexican side. 

But catching smugglers and letting them go—how common is this process? Why is drug smuggling at the U.S. border going un-prosecuted? A recent feature by the national security blog, In Homeland Security, accused federal prosecutors of passing the buck on U.S.-Mexico border drug busts. To check out the accuracy of this headline, The Fix decided to investigate and find out what’s really going on at the border, who is walking free after their smuggling attempts are discovered, and why prosecutors aren’t charging the mules.

“It happens all the time,” a vato we’ll call "Bumpy" says. Bumpy is a former federal drug war prisoner who lives in Arizona right on the border in Nogales. “When it’s under 50 pounds of pot, under a kilo of coke or meth, and under a ounce of heroin, they let them go. Every day this happens at the border and checkpoints around here. I don't think the U.S. Attorneys around here have time to prosecute petty cases from being so backed up by so many larger ones.”

Another former federal prisoner, who we’ll call "Big G" who now lives in Tijuana, explains what happens. It’s not big cartel guys that are walking free, it's regular people trying to make ends meet.

“Working as a lifeguard in TJ doesn’t pay well enough to survive down here,” Big G tells The Fix. “One of the lifeguards I know decided he wanted to cross the border with 30 pounds of weed. He decided to swim across while towing 30 pounds of weed in the middle of the night. To his surprise, the border patrol was already watching his every move, allowing him to get close enough into the U.S. to nab him. He went on to tell me that once they did, they pulled him onto their boat to shore, cuffed him and his partner, who was also carrying 30 pounds, and drove them right back to the border. No due process, and never even drove them to the station. Same BPs that arrested them took their weed and just let them go. Deported them back to Mexico, empty-handed.”

A common occurrence, it seems. Why go through the process of prosecuting and imprisoning the mules when the cartels are ushering big loads through? It seems a more sensible policy is evolving after all these years of the drug war and "lock them up and throw away the key" mentality.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.