US citizens, including teenagers, are helping South American cartels to smuggle illegal immigrants across the southern border, according to authorities in Arizona. Police in the Grand Canyon State recently arrested 18-year-old Landon Vert and 19-year-old Eli LaClaire after discovering five illegal immigrants in their car during a traffic stop.
Carol Kapas, from Cochise County Sheriff’s office, said there is evidence that this was not LaClaire’s first offense and worries that young people from across the nation are aiding illegal people smuggling in exchange for quick and easy cash payments. “We’ve had people come from all over the United States to do this,” she said, adding that young offenders are recruited through social media platforms.
In October, Texas authorities said cartels were paying around $3,000 per immigrant and advertising with notices reading, “Driver wanted: direct message me.” Texas Department of Public Safety Spokesman Lt. Chris Olivarez described a high-speech chase involving a smuggler recruited from Indiana to transport migrants from Rio Grande to San Antonio. He said young and inexperienced drivers can panic when they encounter police, and this can cause potentially fatal accidents.
The unnamed driver from Indiana crashed his car and told police he did not know who he was carrying. He confessed he’d received $3,000 per head to take the border crossers to San Antonio.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent Craig Larrabee told reporters last December that recruiters post photographs of large amounts of cash to tempt Americans to make the potentially treacherous journeys. He said recruits are often sent to desolate places to pick up migrants and can find themselves in risky situations. “These kids are young, maybe first-year drivers – sometimes they don’t even have a driver’s license,” he said. “If approached by law enforcement, they’re often told to try to flee, and that’s disastrous too,” Larrabee added.
Authorities in Texas say smuggling operations are growing in both frequency and scale. Drivers use large vehicles such as trucks and tractors to transport more immigrants for greater cash rewards.