Hidalgo County sees rise in teen smugglers

A cell phone video captures a smuggler's botched attempt to cross with a bundle of marijuana.

He knows Border Patrol can TMt touch the water and he is safe as long as he gets back to the Mexican side.

Of course they know the law; they know what happens, La Joya police chief Julian Gutierrez said.

The La Joya Police Department recovered the cell phone and the video when the same person attempted to smuggle another load of marijuana - that person claimed to be 12 years-old.

We seen a trend on these smugglers, we have been arresting juveniles, Gutierrez said.

Chief Gutierrez said smugglers are choosing teens to do their dirty work.

The choice is like a business decision for smuggling operations because teens are passed through the legal system quickly, but that has changed recently.

Here lately, the juvenile system has been taking in the juveniles so we can make an example of them, Gutierrez said.

Judge Jesse Contreras handles the majority of juvenile criminal cases in Hidalgo County at the 449th District Court.

Since I TMve been here in 2009 we have basically seen an increase of juveniles being forced into smuggling either person or drugs, he said.

Contreras blames a limited budget for causing the problem.

What we seen in the beginning is we would put them on probation and deport them, but the problem is they were coming back, he said.

The majority of juveniles caught smuggling in the country are undocumented immigrants.

They claim to commit the crime because cartels force them into the trade with death threats.

"That's the sad part, Contreras said. They don't live here, at least we can get to the family if they did, try and move them somewhere else or try and protect them through the law enforcement agencies."

The number of teens caught with more than 20 lbs of marijuana in the county has steadily been on the rise.

Hoping to curb the problem, Contreras is cracking down on teens caught smuggling by rehabilitating them.

It TMs an expense tax payers foot.

"Even though we spend money on the rehabilitation the threats, the death threats against the family, and against themselves will probably override the rehabilitation we have done on these kids, but we have to do something."

Another teen caught smuggling humans was a repeat offender and he is now in the process of being certified as an adult after one of his smuggling attempts turned deadly.

The Department of Public Safety chased the teen and opened fire on the truck he was driving killing three Guatemalan immigrants.

The teen caught by La Joya police also led authorities on a high speed pursuit.

Gutierrez is concerned that if more is not done to deter smugglers from using teens, there will be more dangerous pursuits with teens behind the wheel.

"It's dangerous not only for them but for the public," he said.