U.S. Customs and Border Protection found that "in fiscal year 2018 there were 36 children arrested for narcotics at Arizona's ports of entry. In fiscal year 2019, that number jumped to 57. So far in fiscal year 2020, which started in October, there's been 17 arrests," Fox News reported Wednesday.
"It's a problem, we know it's there. We're trying to mitigate that issue through education and prevention," said Alan Regalado, a Border Patrol agent in Tucson, Arizona.
"These teenagers are either smuggling in vehicles, they're smuggling on their body and in their body, so it's very dangerous," he added.
In order to combat the problem, Regalado started T.E.A.M. Kids, or "Together Educating and Mentoring Kids," a four-week program put on in schools to warn students about border recruiters. He told Fox News the program was first implemented in area high schools, but soon he realized that many of the students had already been recruited by that point and that education needed to begin earlier, even as early as elementary school.
Many of the kids caught running drugs and weapons are able to be charged as adults, since the crime of transporting drugs for sale is a class 2 felony.
In cooperation with T.E.A.M. Kids, Santa Cruz County Attorney George Silva explained that he tries to get the upper hand on cartels by warning students of the steep consequences for their actions.
"At this school I had promised the kids that if you are caught with dangerous drugs I'm sending you to prison and that's what ended up happening to this 17 year old ... this student was an honor roll student, you know he was a very good student, he wanted to go NAU and he wanted to study criminal justice, so he thought 'I can't afford to go to college so one way of being able to pay for my college is to run dope,'" Silva told Fox News.
"[Children] do it because they think it's cool but they also do it because of the easy money … [but] the minimum sentence is 3.5 years and obviously prosecuting them as adults means that they would be convicted felons for the rest of their lives," he added.
President Donald Trump has taken a hardline stance against the Mexican cartels. In a bold move in November, he announced that his administration would designate them as terrorist organizations, freeing the U.S. government to take decisive action against them.