Drug Smuggling at Yuma Sector Border

The Yuma Sector Border in Arizona is a hot spot for drug smuggling. The border, which separates the U.S. from Mexico, covers 118 miles and is patrolled by almost 900 Border Patrol agents.

The Yuma Sector Border made front page news in April when a Border Patrol agent, Michael Atondo, was arrested for marijuana trafficking. Other agents at the crossing discovered 745 pounds of marijuana inside his Border Patrol truck. The government believes Atondo is a mole who infiltrated the Border Patrol in order to smuggle drugs.

Atondo is not alone in his attempt to smuggle drugs across the Yuma Sector Border. Also in April, 1,000 pounds of marijuana worth a half a million dollars was retrieved from a Jeep driven by potential traffickers. They used a portable ramp to illegally enter the United States by driving over the 12-foot fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico. When they were spotted, the suspects abandoned the vehicle and the marijuana and fled back across the border, a common scenario among smugglers, who would rather lose the drugs than end up getting arrested for drug crimes.

Even more recently, Yuma Border Patrol tracked footprints believed to belong to individuals who had illegally crossed the border and eventually located three people carrying backpacks full of marijuana, with an estimated value of $76,000.

The Yuma Sector Update, published weekly by the Yuma Sector Border Patrol Communications Division, advises that in the 2010 fiscal year, which runs October 1 through September 30, Border Patrol agents seized 89,116 pounds of marijuana, 700.81 pounds of cocaine and 195.89 pounds of methamphetamine, yielding a combined total street value of $99,919,146.

Border patrol agents use several methods to find potential smugglers. An X-ray machine greets vehicles at the commercial border port of entry, and vantage point shelters dot the fence that separates Mexico from the U.S. An agent sits in a vehicle at each shelter, using binoculars that have a range of one mile, keeping watch for potential traffickers.

Agents also monitor recent footprints after wiping away the prints of previous trespassers. At checkpoints, agents and K9 teams inspect vehicles for hidden drugs. Agents can stop and/or arrest with only reasonable suspicion. Within 25 miles of the border, an agent is permitted to stop any vehicle if the agent believes immigration laws have been violated.