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Border Black Market: Feds Fight Huge SoCal Trade in Dope and Flesh

As the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has grown, so has the poundage of drugs seized and number of human smugglers potentially deterred.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series examining drug smuggling, human smuggling and human trafficking in the San Diego and Orange County area, and how federal and local law enforcement agencies are grappling with the problem. Part 2: Part 3:

Under the affluent veneer of Orange and San Diego counties, thousands risk death, ransom and modern slavery to enter the country without documentation.

Others use muddy border tunnels, rickety fishing boats and secret compartments to haul tons of cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana along the I-5 and other highway corridors, or through beach landings.

Just this week off Dana Point, the

Law enforcement must coordinate dozens of bureaucracies to fight the San Diego area's secretive, violent, multimillion-dollar market in dope and human flesh. From the U.S. Coast Guard to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Chula Vista Police Department and nearly every agency in between, thousands of agents and officers are working to put a dent in Southern California's illegal border commerce.

“We probably get inundated more than anybody else,” said Gary Hill, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s assistant special agent for the San Diego and Imperial County sector. "The sheer volume" is the biggest challenge, he said.

The San Diego sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, which encompasses San Diego County and conducts some operations in Orange County, has seen over the last five years huge increases in the amount of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana seized.

Each week, Border Patrol public relations in San Diego fires off press releases tallying the street value of drugs intercepted at various checkpoints, including San Clemente’s I-5 stop. As agents rack up dope poundage stored in false door panels, gas tanks and diaper bags, they turn it over to the DEA evidence locker.

The Border Patrol also works in concert with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard and dozens of local police departments to create a sprawling mechanism against border crime -- not only drug smuggling, but illegal immigration, human smuggling and human trafficking for forced labor and sex slavery.

Border Patrol arrests in connection with human smuggling operations have dropped drastically in the last few years. The sputtering U.S. economy has radically slowed illegal immigration as Mexican nationals -- who make up about 60 percent of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. -- decide there isn’t as much opportunity in the U.S. as there once was, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

But Border Patrol spokesman Jerry Conlin also credits tougher enforcement for the slowdown. He cited the addition of 1,200 extra agents, new walls and technology for deterring would-be border-crossers. San Diego sector Border Patrol agents’ ranks have swelled from 1,500 in 2005 to nearly 2,700 as of March.

The extra vigilance has produced one side effect, however. It has pushed smugglers to the sea.

Over the last year, the Coast Guard and local sheriff departments, in coordination with the Border Patrol, have , as much as 50 miles off the coasts of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, Dana Point and Camp Pendleton. The Maritime Unified Command based in San Diego, which coordinates and dispatches boats from the Coast Guard and all law enforcement agencies in Orange and San Diego counties, has served as a model for other sectors where various feds and locals could potentially step all over each other.

Human smuggling is a perilous business for the smuggled. Coyotes or members of other criminal organizations that specialize in human smuggling pack people inside car trunks in temperatures that hit three digits, or pack them into semi-trailers in conditions worse than livestock endure, not to mention the overpacked panga fishing boats drifting on the open ocean.

Immigrants regard smugglers as a ticket into the U.S., but some are unwittingly sold into domestic or agricultural slavery, locked in cellars between grueling housecleaning shifts, their passports or other documents seized by their captors. Others are forced into prostitution or held by Hispanic street gangs, mostly in the Inland Empire, to extort money from their families in Mexico or other parts of Latin America.

Because of the San Diego Sector’s unique geography -- a 60-mile, partly mountainous land border with Mexico and more than 114 miles of open coast -- the feds and local police have taken special steps to get a handle on the huge underground economy that is the Southern California border black market.

Check Patch.com over the next two days. will examine San Diego's transnational drug trade, human smuggling and trafficking, and the tools police agencies use in response.

Yeparoo May 26, 2012 at 06:12 PM
NAFTA had several consequences. You may hear nonstop complaining about China and Mexico undercutting US industries and displacing workers. But the US is an economic heavyweight and does does subsidize ag and dump it below cost in other countries. http://portalfornorthamerica.org/spotlight/2010/02/us-subsidies-cost-mexican-farmers-billions I’m not trying to say dumping is a the sole driver of immigration issues. Their are plenty of economic drivers behind immigration policy. I am saying US policy does not match US laws. It’s a double message and desperate people will behave according to policy, not laws. What does it mean to have an immigration detention facility in the middle of a strawberry field surround by “illegal” immigrant workers cultivating the crops?
Yeparoo May 26, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I was hoping Alejandro would repost with an explanation about the origins of the US being complicit in allowing drug smugglers to operate in the 1960s. I am not familiar with that, but understand why he thinks the negative attitudes about illegal immigrants is unfair in comparison. To believe the US & MEX governments aren't cooperating with "friendlier" cartels is foolhardy. The TJ cartel is basically gone and taken over by the Sinaloa cartel, which is less violent. To think the TJ cartel head just happened to get caught fishing in Cabo without the intel of Sinaloa is not reality. The governments on both sides of the boarder know they can't completely stop narcotics, but would like less violent operators. The Truth: http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_18608410
Yeparoo May 26, 2012 at 07:17 PM
It would appear "decisions" are being made upstream.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 01:36 AM
The only reason this so-called "war on drugs" is still being waged after 70 years, trillions of dollars wasted with zero impact on American or world-wide consumption? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ To many powerful Americans getting rich off of it. I am NOT writing about drug dealers, a tiny fraction of them are even making more than a meager living off of selling drugs, it is the D.E.A., the police, the judges, the lawyers, the bail bonds men, the prison guards, the corporations who own for-profit prisons, the border patrol, ECT. Those are the people making $$$$$$$$$$$ off of illegal drugs. It is they who get the juicy contracts, hefty bonuses, paid vacations, paid retirement and healthy salaries. We, the tax-payers get stuck paying for it. Sooner or later, the gravy train will come to an end and in my humble opinion, history will judge those who profit off of imprisoning their fellow citizens because they choose a different substance to abuse than the accepted ones harshly.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 01:58 AM
You can legally abuse alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs even red-meat or ice cream. While you can be arrested for using cannabis for medicinal reasons. I hope this clears it up for you.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 03:11 AM
SCN, I am "lost" on why you are so concerned with how long THC "stays in the system"? Because it can be detected does NOT mean you are still under the influence of it.There is no such thing as a field sobriety test for THC though law-enforcement has spent decades and millions of tax-dollars to come up with one? Many people perform BETTER after ingesting cannabis. Are you in favor of alcohol being "prohibited"? It is safe to say that was proven a failure as it is with cannabis. Are you OK with tobacco being legal though it is proven to kill you while cannabis is a proven cancer fighter? Prescription drugs can and will kill you over either the short or long term depending on how much you take. Ingesting cannabis is MUCH more healthy for you than ice-cream or red meat, look at Micheal Phelps or other professional athletes who are very careful about what they put into their bodies." It is illegal for a reason" Really?Then why didn't you include it in your post? "Not everyone responds well to it" If that is your reason? It sure is an asinine one. You could say that about milk.No such thing as a "psychologically addicted pot head" you are parroting propaganda. There ARE people who get relief from ADHD by consuming cannabis, who are you to tell them they do not? Your comment that you suspect "pot does retard" makes me wonder what happened to damage your brain as it is out of touch with reality."My kids have to parent former pothead, dad." You write like a real genius yourself.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 03:45 AM
I would have to say, your opinion of your IQ just MAY? Be a little biased. I assume you would have no problem with your 13 year old being given prescription drugs that could cause brain-damage or kill him yet you are all up in arms about a herb that has never in the history of medicine killed or caused brain damage to anyone? You are the first person in this conversation to "ridicule" anyone with your insulting "pothead" references. If you would like to see proof that Cannabis cures cancer? Google it if you can handle the truth. You babble about your "ettiquette" spelling it wrong and then follow it with more regurgitated propaganda about falling and eating Cheetos? You are definitely sharp as an egg. You are the one who needs "to get over it", cannabis is here to stay and according to recent polling data only 36% of Americans are against legalizing cannabis. FYI, THC shows up in hair follicles until you cut it off, potentially for years. Once again, I don't understand how this has any bearing on reasons for illegality of cannabis. "Inhibits motor skills provably"? Once again, you are repeating propaganda but now I wonder just what it is that is causing you to have such a hard time composing sentences and spelling words? Perhaps you are the one who "needs to see a Doctor"?
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 05:38 AM
SCN, So can you honestly say that you would not give you 13 year old prescription drugs? Yes or no? You imply I am a "Ass" yet I am still fairly certain I was correct about you giving your child prescription drugs. But you can't bring yourself to admit it. I don't care how you vote as you and people like you are in a rapidly dissipating minority. "Point is" it was once "illegal" for white woman or black men to vote or even date each other and there were many people who "liked it that way". Then you claim "insults are not my style" yet you cannot seem to refrain from insulting cannabis consumers by calling them "potheads"? This has been fun, I hope you are having a good one as well.
Yeparoo May 27, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Top Ten Facts on Legalization http://www.justice.gov/dea/demand/speakout/index.html
Frieda Wales May 27, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Marc Shroeder, thank you for your input, I find it refreshing. However, I do find your comments somewhat ironic as your comments on the "people making $$$$$" "juicy contracts, hefty bonuses, paid vacations, paid retirement, and healthy salaries" while the "tax-payers get stuck paying for it" are the exact reasons so many of the same people who are commenting on this article use to attack teacher's unions. Irony and laughter over some sad subjects thank you all.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 05:26 PM
SCN, even aspirin can kill UNLIKE cannabis and though I have meet many cannabis consumers over the years, NONE have identified themselves as "Pothead" That rather juvenile demeaning term is mainly used by less than intelligent victims of drug warrior propaganda. Who are you to evaluate anyone's need for cannabis? I use it for anger management, back pain and insomnia and I don't give a rats ass whether you think that is a " medical need" Try minding your own business. In my opinion, you need some cannabis to help you deal with your rather obvious obsession with your ex-husband but I have no interest in checking what you have in your medicine cabinet. You are a adult and have the right to choose what you want to ingest. How about giving the same rights and privilege to those who choose a natural herb that grows naturally as I do to you and your chemical drugs or alcohol? There you go again parroting propaganda " The topis is not weather marijuana should be legalized it is.. that drug cartels are importing it. The fact is... first of all, no one here in Ca. is still smoking Mexican herb. Second, if it was legal? The "cartels" would not be importing ANY. I sincerely hope you can wrap your brain around that one? We shall see if you respond? You "suggest" I "get a federal law passed" Why do you think I am writing this? You don't "like illegal activity" neither do I. That is why I am doing what I can to fight for the full legalization of cannabis.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Why did I bring up white and black people dating? Perhaps you should go back and read it again? I do believe all but the most simple minded among us would be able to figure out that the point was... not all laws are good, fair or reasonable and it is the courageous and patriotic thing to do to fight to have ridiculous restrictions on our liberties removed from the penal code. I also do not approve of any chemical drugs including many that are currently legal. However, I do not believe I have the right to force my beliefs on anyone and more importantly to me? I do not want my tax dollars wasted trying to. You make my point with your story about your "ex" being fired for having THC in his system. That was wrong there is no way to prove he was under the influence when he was injured. You are not a "prude"? Why do you write that? I would venture a guess it is because you do consume alcohol and judging by your writing style, spelling errors and lack of basic logic, you consume plenty.But even though you and your ex probably got drunk together many times? You choose to claim the "pot destroyed" your family. I am not trying to insult you, I am trying to get you to forget the propaganda you have been subjected to and think logically for a change.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) May 27, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Marc, at Patch, we editors try hard to steer you from focusing on each other and instead discuss the subject without insults. Thanks.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Denial is the first sign of substance abuse. Alcohol has been proven to cause brain damage, while cannabis does not. We have covered your "laws" argument. I have no "problem" debating, you are the one seems to have one. Arguing facts is not "attacking" though your sub-par performance may make you feel like it is. Just because you are not bright enough to realize your ridiculous claims and the nonsense you parrot are the results of propaganda does not change that fact. There is no possible way you could prove your uncle's accident was caused by consumption of cannabis or any other reason, yet you write it as fact. "I would not want to be on the road with you are anyone else on marijuana." I don't like the idea of being on the road with a person who lacks the intelligence to compose a simple sentence. However, neither one of us has the right to interfere with each others lives. You find my valid reason for reducing the drug cartel's income stream "insane"? That does not surprise me, in fact, your lack of the ability to think logically made it easily predictable. If we were to follow your twisted logic, America should go ahead and criminalize the possession of alcohol as there is much more potential for abuse than cannabis. If you do decide to get some facts? I would suggest you Google statistics of how many deaths are caused each year by alcohol,prescription drugs and tobacco. Explain what you don't like about my "record"? Walk to the pier and swimming laps is the plan today.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I do not find links to some of the propaganda that you lied about being subjected to interesting. Once again you babble nonsense about my "tone". If you had even a slight grasp on logical thinking you would realize that you are ASSuming I have consumed cannabis before writing my opinions. As per usual, you are wrong. I have not consumed since noon yesterday. That is one of the great things about cannabis, it is NOT addictive despite the nonsense you repeatedly spew. If it is any of your business, I have always carried auto and motorcycle insurance but have neglected to have it in some of 8 vehicles I own. All of those POI infractions were dismissed as soon as my ATTY presented POI. Can we the readers assume you have never had any traffic tickets? I wouldn't be surprised to find out you don't even have a car. But of course, you have to hide behind your screen name. Maybe you need to go down to the skate shop and purchase a roll of grip tape? But then you would have the impossible task of figuring out what to do with it.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Penny, perhaps you should read and find out who started the insults before chastising me?
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Yeah, "great one" Propaganda from the organization making more $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ off of illegal drugs than anyone else by far. "sober"? Didn't you just admit to consuming alcohol? That is right SCN, don't let facts interfere with your propaganda right?
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Hello PCM and thank you for your kind words. The difference between the drug warriors and teachers is at least we tax-payers get our children educated while the war on drugs is much more evil and expensive that the drugs themselves.
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 08:03 PM
I own 8 vehicles and it does not make any difference in the fee to have POI charges dismissed while my ATTY is representing me already in court. "2 divorces"? So what? you have had at least one and you are probably to shot out to attract another spouse. Yes I am in business and I did have a San Clemente business license while doing work here. At this time, my office is no longer located nor am I doing any jobs here. Perhaps you need a home built or remodeled? I would be happy to renew if I had a valid reason to. "swim sober"? Have you ever heard of Micheal Phelps? He is won 5 gold medals for swimming and is a admitted cannabis consumer. Now I would never swim after consuming alcohol as you do, but I have swam 2000 meters after consuming cannabis many times. But thanks for your concern. ; )
Yeparoo May 27, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Myth: Marijuana Is Harmless Reality: Marijuana Is Dangerous to the User http://alcoholism.about.com/od/pot/a/bldea050426_4.htm
Marc Schroeder May 27, 2012 at 08:14 PM
SCN, are you dense? The cartels, drug dealers do exist and drugs show up on our beaches because of America's prohibition! And now you admit to taking prescription pain killers which have been proven addictive, can kill you and destroy your kidneys and liver. I am sure your 13 year old does not enjoy having it's mother doped up on pain pills. You would be much better off getting a Doctor's recommendation to use cannabis if you want to be around to see your grandchildren.
bbq May 27, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Marc, I am not opposed to legalizing pot, but I would like to point out a couple of things: You said the drug cartels do not sell pot and that people don't smoke Mexican pot. Please google "drug cartels growing marijuana in US national parks" and you will be very surprised to see how involved the cartels are in the pot trade. You think that there is no such thing as being psychologically addicted to pot. I will attest that when I was 17 (many, many years ago :), I went through a period of time where I was definitely addicted to pot. I went down one letter grade in every class except art. I would skip classes and go into the art room and make jewelry. I gained weight and finally stopped smoking because I started having major panic attacks that carried on into adulthood. Before you berate SCN on her writing and spelling skills, you should check your own. I saw plenty of errors in your posts.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 01:43 AM
BBQ, I am constantly amazed by the lack of reading comprehension and gullibility of you victims of drug warrior propaganda.I NEVER said the "cartels do not sell pot" First of all,I do not use that word to describe cannabis unless quoting one of you. The simple fact you are having such a hard time with is.The Mexican cartels only supply what is illegal,WHERE it is illegal Here in California,we have had medical cannabis since 1996.The result of it is, Californians are growing very high quality herb,some of the best in the world as a matter of fact.What is the end result after 16 years?Prices have fallen to half of what they were and almost no one will consume crappy Mexican herb.Which means,$ for Californians NOT the cartels. The propaganda you parrot about "cartels growing in our national parks" is simply that.Propaganda intended to stir up anti- cannabis hysteria and get US the tax payers to continue to throw tax-dollars into the drug war toilet.It is old news and hardly a "surprise" to any thinking person informed about the issue I KNOW there is no such thing as "being addicted to pot" not only clinical research has proven it, but I myself am living proof. I have not consumed any today and I have plenty. I have gone as long as a year and a half without smoking anything without ANY withdraw symptoms what so ever.Yes there are weak people who can get addicted to anything,but that is on them NOT cannabis.Alcohol,tobacco and even coffee have been proven to be more addictive.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 02:07 AM
SCN, your posts are becoming worse and worse. You are incapable of writing above a 6th grade level. Please take the time to read them before clicking on submit. It is a shame that you are so proud of denying your son and his father access to each other, although I would do the same thing if he is on tweek, I just would not brag about it as you so gleefully do. You did not have to tell me about how happy you are while eating. I figured that one out for myself. I was joking when I suggested you hire me, pretty funny it went over your head. While you "need a ATTY for child support" I don't bother asking my ex for any. Hmmm, if your ex is such a loser and you are so successful? Why do you bother? Suddenly my BS detector is going off.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 02:29 AM
More propaganda written by a person who makes their living off of convincing the gullible that they or their children need their services. First of all, a dried plant is not a drug, it is an herb that does make you feel good just like tea. Regurgitated nonsense about scary THC levels when in fact all that means is you smoke less. They compare cannabis to "crack cocaine" and if you fail to see the idiocy in that? I can only wonder how you tie your shoes. "Shocking to many is that more teens are in treatment each year for marijuana dependence" ? It is this kind of propaganda and the parents gullible enough to believe it that causes that statistic to be so high. "Marijuana is a gateway drug." You could just as easily blame it on milk, in fact if that were true? Then our last 3 presidents would be drug addicts as they all admitted to using cannabis. I could go on, but I have to get dinner going.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 02:34 AM
LOL, It sounds like you want me to go smoke a joint? Sorry if I was offensive, I do get a little to worked up arguing sometimes. I hope your back feels better and your ex gets off the tweek, Marc.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Cannabis DOES make me feel happier, that is why I enjoy it. It is to bad you have to see it as a bad thing. My kids are the world to me and they are all very happy, healthy and intelligent. Many of the best parents I know also consume cannabis, it is just propaganda that leads you to believe otherwise. There is nothing more "natural" than a plant. My day was awesome! I rode my bike on the beach trail and swam in the ocean. It was so warm I did not have to go to the pool. : ) Your vote is yours to decide, I just think you and many of my fellow Americans have been deceived for to long, it is time to shine a light on the deception of the drug war profiteers and stop wasting borrowed tax-dollars.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 03:03 AM
No, I don't "use" anything except tools and equipment. If you are asking if I smoke herb around them? The answer would be no. While we are on the subject? I am MUCH more concerned about my children drinking alcohol than consuming cannabis.
Marc Schroeder May 28, 2012 at 03:16 AM
SCN, remember your own words about making ASSumtions when it comes to your kids, Trust, but verify. Sorry to break it to you, but I am defiantly NOT going down the same path as your ex, in fact I hardly even drink at all anymore and I was much wilder back in the 80s than I am now. There you go again parroting BS propaganda with the "gateway" argument, I am not going there again. You did not like my overalls? : ( Somehow I will have to work through it. Sorry, but I was working out in Pauma valley and did not have time to change. How did you like my speech? Once again, because you keep missing it, the only drugs I do are idroprophin
Yeparoo May 28, 2012 at 05:27 AM
LOL - Marc, what is your equivalent to the "red cup?"

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