Smuggling gangs renting out real U.S. passports

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Border Patrol agents are looking for those who have a passport that may not belong to them. (Source: CBS 5) Border Patrol agents are looking for those who have a passport that may not belong to them. (Source: CBS 5)
NOGALES, MEXICO (3TV/CBS 5) -

Officers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection say they are catching non-citizens trying to use real passports that don't belong to them.

They say the trend is caused, in part, by a switch to modern travel documents that are made of hi-tech materials. The newer documents are tougher to alter or forge than they used to be.

"The smugglers know that our technology has evolved," said Marcia Armendariz, who is a supervisor with CBP. She says gangs of smugglers actively recruit U.S. citizens to sell their passports. The smugglers then rent the documents to immigrants who want to enter the country but are not legally able to.

"These are big organizations, that that's all they do," said Armendariz.

CBS 5 Investigates went undercover across the border, our reporter posing as someone looking for a smuggler. It didn't take long.

[VIDEO: Undercover video shows black market for passports]

"I need to find someone who can get a couple of my employees back into the U.S. They don't have papers," said the reporter to a man who had approached him only seconds before.

"If he speaks English, we could get them a U.S. passport," said the man.

"What does a U.S. passport cost down here?" asked the reporter.

"Well, it's 1,500 for the rent. It will take at least one or two days to get them a passport that looks just like him," said the man.

The exchange took place just 100 yards south of the U.S. port of entry in Nogales.

"They rent these documents because they get to reuse them if the person is able to make it through," said Armendariz.

The fraudulent use of real travel documents creates challenges for officers on duty at the port. They say they rely on experience and an ability to read body language, expressions and mannerisms to weed out the impostors. If the officers suspect something is not right, they direct the traveler to the secondary inspection area. For a passport impostor, that is usually the end of the road.

"Sooner or later, they get caught," said Armendariz, who says it happens just about every day in Nogales. But she admits, the officers can't catch everyone.

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