Arizona’s top prosecutor warns about cartels recruiting teens for human smuggling jobs

Some "load drivers" are as young as 14.
Some "load drivers" are as young as 14.(Cochise County Sheriff's Office)
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 7:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona’s attorney general is warning about cartels using social media to entice teens to drive smuggled migrants from the border farther into Arizona. According to a news release from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s Office, criminals offer “load drivers” up to $2,000 for each passenger the person picks up at the border and drives north to a specific location. Investigators say the cash is especially attractive to teens, sometimes as young as 14. The cartels put out ads on social media like TikTok and Snapchat.

Nearly all drivers stopped by law enforcement during these types of jobs are U.S. citizens. Men and women of all ages, even some from out of state, come to cash in on this illegal activity. “You see how lucrative it is, both for our young people and our career criminals from all over the country that are coming to Maricopa County, renting cars or getting cars through associates and coming to Cochise County to pick them up,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said.

In Cochise County, which is along the Arizona-Mexico border that includes the City of Douglas, about 1,000 smugglers a month come to the border, according to the Attorney General’s Office. So it’s working with a multi-agency task force called “Operate Safe Streets,” which tries to stop up to 10 “load cars” per day. Dannels said this human smuggling trend is the worst he’s seen in 38 years. “The cartel is telling them, ‘Once you pick them up, go go go,’ which means you run from law enforcement, but you place my county, my citizens at risk,” said Dannels.