SOUTHERN ARIZONA -- The case is frustrating, but not uncommon. Deputies say a man crossed the border into Arizona, was busted with drugs, then arrested, then deported, only to return with almost $2 million worth of heroin.
How does this happen?
Some might say it's simple: The border isn't secure. Others believe the answer is manpower. The Pinal County sheriff brings up an issue of unequal enforcement.
"In Yuma, everyone is prosecuted,” said Sheriff Paul Babeu. “In the Tucson sector, where we stand today, where this person was apprehended, less than 15 percent are prosecuted. So that's a problem. We need to enforce the law uniformly across our border."
It is a challenge of limited resources and a $68 billion appetite for illegal drugs.
Drug raids in border states like Arizona have become almost weekly events. Police agencies catch drug smugglers who are often low-level mules for Mexican cartels and in the United States illegally.
This is how Pinal County deputies originally came across Francisco Morales during “Operation Pipeline Express” in mid-October. He was deported after it was determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute him.
Then Monday, they stopped a man who allegedly had a pile of heroin in his car. Sure enough, it was Morales, back in the U.S. scarcely two weeks later.
“The fact is that we failed as a nation to prosecute this person and to properly enforce the law and deport him,” Babeu said. “He would still not have been released likely. It is usually 14 to 21 days that they're held.”
Babeu said the system puts his deputies and citizens in danger.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon recently accused the U.S. of dumping 60,000 to 70,000 migrants in border towns, many of whom are criminals. Calderon believes that's part of the problem.
“That may sound like a big number,” said retired DEA agent Doug Hebert. “But in the scheme of things that's not that big a number.”
Hebert spent 26 years with the DEA and said the situation like that with Morales happens all the time.
“They're selling drugs, they're smuggling drugs. That's a crime, put them in jail. Why isn't it that simple?” I asked Hebert.
“That sounds like a simple solution but again, you have to look at what resources we have here in the U.S. to deal with that issue,” he said, adding their mission is to arrest major drug figures.
He said deportation often happens because it is not practical to throw every smuggler who knows nothing about the criminal organization in jail.
“Hopefully by just being stopped, that would be enough to be a deterrent not to do it again,” he said.
“What is the solution?" I asked.
“Very complicated,” Hebert answered. “There are so many different issues at play here with immigration, the whole border issue with sealing off the border, and the demand for drugs here in the US. It is a multi-faceted issue.”
The Associated Press has requested records from Mexico without success to try and determine the impact of dropping off criminals at the border. According to the AP, there are no records to show whether the U.S. authorities choose deportation as opposed to prosecution.