Traffickers Use Service Roads to Avoid US-Mexico Border Controls

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Drug traffickers are bribing workers and using oil and gas company roads and in southern Texas to avoid border checkpoints, presenting a new challenge to border security.

The Houston Chronicle reports that energy companies in southern Texas are unintentionally providing drug trafficking organizations with new ways of entering the United States undetected. Citing a threat assessment by US law enforcement officials at the South Texas High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA), the article notes that traffickers are using roads originally built by the energy companies to transport oil-field service vehicles to instead smuggle drugs into the US. The roads are located away from densely populated areas and circumvent border patrol checkpoints, allowing drug smugglers unmonitored access into the country.

Tony Garcia, the director for the South Texas HIDTA, told the Chronicle that the largest concern for law enforcement officials is how to address the changing security situation, which is hindered by their inability to move checkpoints to cover the service roads.

Authorities have caught smugglers using the oil field roads several times. In March, two trucks were caught smuggling 18,665 pounds of marijuana disguised by supplies that appeared to be used in oil field operations. It was the most marijuana the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector had ever seized in one day. The one truck driver admitted to being paid $7,500 to drive the shipment.

Authorities are also worried about the cartels making counterfeit copies of the energy companies’ trucks to avoid detection. In July 2011, traffickers did just that, using a fake oil field truck to carry 1,373 pounds of marijuana into the US, where they were stopped by Border Patrol agents.

InSight Crime Analysis

As security increases along the southern US border, drug smugglers must find new ways of getting their merchandise into the country. While previously, drug smugglers hoping to avoid checkpoints would have to circumnavigate desert terrain, the new roads effectively facilitate the traffickers’ movements across sections of the border.

The bribery of the truck driver caught by the Del Rio Border Patrol demonstrates the drug smuglers’ ability to buy US employees. As Javier Pena, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston division, told the Chronicle, many truck drivers and security personnel find it hard to ignore the traffickers’ bribes. They can offer thousands of dollars, and there is no easy way to counter this incentive.

Organized crime has long plagued energy companies on the southern side of the US-Mexico border. Pemex, Mexico’s state-operated oil company, as reported many thefts of petroleum, by both individuals and the cartels, resulting in a loss of 70,000 barrels of oil a day during the first five months of 2012.

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