Romero has worked in law enforcement for 24 years, 15 of it in this border county. He's a member of his office's eight-deputy Narcotics Enforcement Team, some of whom work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the DEA. Romero's ancestors hail from Central Mexico, and the frustration of trying to defend the United States from contraband doesn't invade his soft, matter-of-fact voice.

As a narcotics agent, Romero mostly interdicts marijuana loads. In 2010, marijuana seized along the southwestern U.S. border accounted for 96 percent of what was confiscated nationwide. Half of it was nabbed in Arizona. Smugglers come at all hours: Two days earlier, Romero busted a car carrying 200 pounds of pot at 1:30 in the afternoon. Broad daylight. A day before that, a golfer playing the fifth hole at the Turquoise Valley Golf course in Naco reported a troupe of packers as they scudded through a wash — just a chip shot away.

"We'd like to tell you that there are certain times of the day when they do it most," Romero says. "But it's all the time. They go when they're ready."

Most of the smuggling action is near milepost six, which authorities call "The Seam," halfway between Naco and Douglas. Romero drives his Silver Chevy truck, with an M4 carbine and a shotgun where the drink holders should be, along a dirt road beside the border fence. Up close, the desert here is anything but level; it's streaked with washes and has dense grass several feet high, boulders, and creosote bushes so thick that if a smuggler wanted to hide from pursuing authorities, he'd simply need to bend over and scurry off like a jackrabbit to vanish.

"It's hard to find them if they get into this stuff," Romero says.

As Romero stands atop a hill, he focuses the dial of his $1,200 Vortex Razor binoculars at a faded, white tarp flapping in the wind. On the Mexican side of the border is a lookout bivouac that's manned, Romero thinks, 24 hours a day. A smuggler might be up there right now, he says, staring back at him while communicating to a boss in a nearby town.

Paloma's home is not far from the bald hill where Romero stands. In the Mexican town where he lives, Paloma shares a sparse, tile-floored, two-bedroom house with a friend. He keeps almost an entire butchered cow, including head, in his freezer. He has a propane space heater and spends hours perusing Phoenix Craigslist posts, searching for random items that Rodrigo will have to pick up.

Paloma has dark skin and the build of an athlete gone a bit doughy. He wears jeans and shirts with collars and the brand names stamped on the chest. His haircut could be described as faux-hawk. He can be taciturn and stern. But, among friends, this gives way to a smile and a cackling laugh.

Although his SUV is conspicuously shiny compared to the many beaters in town, Paloma tries to keep a low profile. Years ago, he got into an argument at a bar, and his adversary smashed a beer bottle against Paloma's face. He decided to walk away. You never know who might have connections. If he'd wanted revenge, Paloma says, he knows a few people who could have kidnapped or killed his assailant.

Working as a smuggler means he must live away from his wife and daughter, whom he shows off in cell-phone pictures. Paloma hates the town he lives in. He's building his family a house in his hometown, where he visits them nearly every week. During work, he lives like a bachelor: bland Chinese food, sweet bread from a gas station, hot dogs from street vendors.

A walkie-talkie in his kitchen sounds off with the voices of associates. Either Paloma or his roommate carries the radio to lunch, dinner, and on trips around town, holding it closely to their ears at times. With the radio and his phone, Paloma tracks each leg of his dope's trip north, starting with the backpackers who slip across the fence and attempt to evade the Border Patrol (or whatever agency is on duty), each packer carrying two or three 20-pound bales of weed.

Nearly all drug seizures outside points of entry in Arizona and New Mexico involve marijuana. And more than 90 percent of the seizures are from smugglers on foot. Backpackers generally work in teams. Each squad has a leader, who may carry a few bales himself, getting paid about $1,000 for each operation. Authorities call these men FTOs, or field-training officers. Typically, an FTO has worked in the smuggling business for many years and knows about hideouts, Border Patrol shift changes, and how to get by thermal-vision cameras that enable agents to see about eight miles.

Once the backpackers cross the border fence, the lead packer communicates on a disposable phone to men posted on hills who relay warnings, locations of authorities, and all-clear signals. In some spots, it's four miles of stop-and-gos from the border fence to State Route 80, a favored smuggling highway that connects Douglas to Bisbee.

Paloma sends his lead backpacker the phone number of a driver who will pick up the load in the area. The driver will pull off to the side of the highway or down a dirt path that connects ranches and homes in the area. The packers hide in bushes. With the deft speed of a racetrack pit crew, they can load 200 pounds of marijuana into the trunk of a compact car and send it on its way in about 30 seconds.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
59 comments
don.dodondo
don.dodondo

Just another "hard-working" illegal immigrant who is here trying to improve his life by breaking our laws and sponging off the American tax-payer.

herbalanger
herbalanger

I HAVE BEEN BUYING WEEED AT A HOUSE THATS BEEN SEELING THRU A MAIL SLOTT FOR OVER 17 YEARS.  here is he reason this house is still in opperation, police know cannabis will no kill you, there is not onw recorded case of some one diyng from marijauana use....sure they did do tests on monkeys where the were put in masks and pumped the eqivolent of 700 joints worht of smoke into the monkeys masks... what the us government forgot to think about befor the test, is that all land animals need "OXYGEN"  SOTHEMONKEYS DIDE DUE TOSMOKE ASYPHXIATION..OR LACK OF anyOXYGEN. i dont know bout u but i  breath between hits.... so yeah   U.S.A.you fail

herbalanger
herbalanger

he wasnt distribuing meth amphetamines...it was JUST CANNABIS{shitty cannabis at that.}. this story right here is the EXACT reason  he USA needs to legalize cannabis, just think off all tha cash..pouring into mexicos bloody hands. millions.... it ${ the money} could stay in our {the usa} economy. and the taxes from legal sales of cannabis would be SO HELPFULL TO OUR FAILING SCHOOL DISRICTS, not to mention the cash generated could also help open up more  "hard"drug and alcohol reabilitation centers, which are closing a alarming rates.   MARIJUANA IS SAFE, ITS NOT HEROIN..WAKE UP AND STOP TREATING IT LIKE THAT

serpico1000
serpico1000

I think all these reports only present ONE side of the drug problem in the U.S. what NEEDS to be done is a deeper investigation on the whole drug problem, not only from the illegal contraband, but what those connections are, who finances the move of the drugs in the U.S. where the final destination of those drugs is who is involved, and what the hell the whole bull-shit is all about, BUT THE SILENCE IS SOOO DEAFENING, I would get  involved in all of this shit, but age is not helping!!!

danxranx
danxranx

Heck, for a box of money like that, I'd run drugs too!


www.AnonNet.da.bz

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

It's time to legalize weed. Then, instead of being incarcerated for possession with intent to distribute, you would get nailed for not having a Marijuana Tax Stamp. Federal and state. That would make "sequestration" a thing of the past with so much money going into the federal and state treasuries. Seriously.

markhopkins435
markhopkins435

funny..... getiing pulled over in Arizona on the highway.... frst question I always get as a out of towner...

is it ok to search your vehicle??

AZHighways
AZHighways

Any of you actually grow up in this State?  If so, you already know this "Gang" - or what most would refer to as a Family Business has lasted longer than any of the Businesses or Corporations here that I can remember.  "Lock 'em up" ?  They are probably more ethical & honest than the Law Folks are.  Not defending anyone - just "saying it like it is".

Sedonasherpa
Sedonasherpa

Two places where this illegal weed does NOT bring $500 or $1,000 per pound to the cartel?

Colorado

Washington

robert_graham
robert_graham topcommenter

Click on my handle to see my new profile picture

jackgeddins
jackgeddins

Put the drug user in Jail.   When they get pick by the police, no bail no bond, just strate to jail.

robert_graham
robert_graham topcommenter

WTF, he is a drug dealer and he should have been puleld over.  Enough of your playing the race card.

halldecker
halldecker

a far better distribution procedure than Wal-Mart.   Turning tons of dope into ounces and grams,  collecting,  sending the money South,   we should legalize everything,  then ask them to explain how they do it. 

chucklereader1
chucklereader1

F'n new times, why don't you just write an  f'n corrido for this scum shit.....

genknorr
genknorr

We need to get rid of the scum. They should shoot on site all illeagls

johnglen
johnglen

.. uugghh where to start; poorest of the poor trying to survive, our heaviest gestapo policia from an alphabet soup of agencies preying upon them like the obscene bureaucratic parasite they are, christ BLM rangers now feeding on the drug war too ... the sores on that human being are disgraceful, shame shame shame on the american prohibition ..

sarum
sarum

@serpico1000"If you're caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you're gonna go to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life," Warren said. "But evidently if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your bed at night -- every single individual associated with this. And I think that's fundamentally wrong."

Elizabeth Warren is one to watch right now.  CCA prisons full and Federal Reserve happy.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Sedonasherpa  ... utter nonsense.

Colorado is awash in Mexican pot, always has been being due north of Juarez on I-25, joining 1-70.

Some Medical Marijuana Dispensaries even sell Mex as their loss leader to get customers in the store.


Comrade
Comrade

Jaffy, jaffy, who the fuck wants to see Your sorry ass profile. BTW You suposse to be with The POS, DRAMA QUEEN SHURF changing His Diapers, I heard that You were handpicked by Him to be His private Nurse.

fsmith3
fsmith3

@jackgeddins 

Were you socially promoted in high school?  I can't imagine you earned a GED which requires testing.

Comrade
Comrade

JAFFYBOI, WTF!!! areYou "SLOW" You have a serious problen comprehending what You read, the article ckearly states that He was pulled over....RETARD.

azcumsquelcher
azcumsquelcher

@chucklereader1 I think the author secretly wishes he was a Mexican pot mule. Just the way he makes fun of the cops using "gringo spanish" makes me think Weston Phippen sees himself as some ultra-cultured friend of the Hispanohablante. these assholes referenced in the article are no angels, they are criminal scum who belong in prisons in their own countries

Comrade
Comrade

genknorr, then You need to hide BIATCH or run, knowing how chicken U R, You might be an Illegal trying to get sympathy from the Whitey, even Your avatar betrayed You, "KNORR" (Chiken Boullion), BTW take that other BIATCH JAFFY with You, Fng Coocksuckers.

azcumsquelcher
azcumsquelcher

@johnglen Poor Mexicans can get other jobs that don't involve smuggling drugs into our country. I don't know if you knew that, but it seems like you didn't. 

bob_lablaw96
bob_lablaw96

@johnglen Or...you could start by calling them drug dealers, instead of the "poorest of the poor."  Read the article!  They make good money as drug dealers, and are probably here illegally anyway.

Screw them all.  Come here legally, work a righteous job, and become one of us.  Do it this way, and die as animals.

herbalanger
herbalanger

you are only fan of fag joey arpaio cuz ou have never been incarcerated by his hitler wanna be ass.  have ou spent a month in his out door tents????? nope didnt hink so..YOU IDIOT WOULDN BE SO "PRO JOE" IF YOU EVER HAD A CHANCE TO LET HIM RUN YOUR LIFE....GROW UP GETLOCKED UP   AND OPEN YOUR BLINDED EYES TO HEW REAL WORLD. cant wait till mexico kidnaps him

Comrade
Comrade

jackgeddins, OH MY GOD, ARE YOU FNG KIDDING ME?,.... "Me too, Can we start a club"......can we hold hands,........ aaagggghhh! DISGUSTING. I wonder what kind of Club is gonna be; "MISSFIT'S CLUB'?

Comrade
Comrade

JAFFY ROBBYBOI, I told You before, everytime You say: YES, it looks like a biatch beign fuck.

johnglen
johnglen

....  dudettes ... bois ...  pleze .. we're talking about real people & an effing medicinal herb here ... not a natl security issue ... calms the eff down & chill winston ... youre maken us whyte folks look stupid.

reedfox
reedfox

@genknorr Did you mean to say "they're" instead of "there"?  Maybe you should focus more on your grammar and less on illegals.  I'm beginning to wonder if "their" education is better than yours.

sarum
sarum

@azcumsquelcher @johnglen It's not just ganja, its Afghani heroin.   History repeats itself.  Opium Wars was for economic conquest purpose.  Since '70's we know our own government is behind this.  Screaming racism is smokescreen to divert the ignorant.

azcumsquelcher
azcumsquelcher

@johnglen no sir, you are making us white folks look stupid. When crime is exacerbated by these pieces of shit invading our country with drugs, then we have a national security problem. I don't disagree that marijuana is a relatively harmless recreational drug, but I do 100% disagree with your idea that drug smugglers/dealers/thieves and all other hordes of criminals that commit crimes as a result of the smuggling of these drugs are innocent victims in this. You're not helping anyone out by taking the "chill bro, smoke some ganja and stop hatin' on my mexican brothers" approach

fsmith3
fsmith3

@genknorr @fsmith3 @johnglen 

Uh, I seriously doubt that, unless you're taking classes in whatever language you can actually speak.  I expect it's not Hindi or Tagalog, or something like that, because the official language in India and the P.I. is English.  If you got into ASU I expect you've stolen someone's I.D., because I can't imagine that you could pass any sort of even a lower division course. and certainly couldn't deal with an SAT or ACT.

You probably got  the third degree from the cops because you looked like such a low life. That doesn't mean you have three degrees, cretin.

Being a general nuisance isn't a military rank, either.

reedfox
reedfox

@bob_lablaw96

Today class we will learn the word Their.

Their is used as a possessive determiner followed by a noun. For example: their school, their teacher, or their education.

So "there" you have it class.  Be sure to use this word correctly.

Class dismissed.

bob_lablaw96
bob_lablaw96

@reedfox @genknorr "There?"  instead of "their?"

If you intend to school someone one their grammar, have your own grammar down pat.

Comrade
Comrade

JAFFY, "there's nothing ignorant or stupid......" the only ignorant and stupid is Yourself, and a whiner one.

This is You bitching: "But.....but.....He's a drug ddeeeaaalleerr" PUTO.

Comrade
Comrade

genknorr, You must be related to that drunkard Jan brewsky and that merryboi Jaffy same level of illiteracy if You "under stand" what a mean.

reedfox
reedfox

@genknorr "understood" or "under stood"?  Your grammar and spelling are impressive.  I didn't comment on the story, instead I replied to your statement of shooting all illegals. 

robert_graham
robert_graham topcommenter

@genknorr @reedfox There's nothing ignorant or stupid about that we should get rid of the scum. HE'S A DRUG DEALER!!!!

genknorr
genknorr

@reedfox @genknorr shows your ignorance sonny as you under stood but could not reply about the ilegal scum in america.

 
Loading...