NOGALES, Ariz. -- A Border Patrol agent is stepping up to help kids after witnessing Mexican cartels recruiting children as young as 12 years old to smuggle drugs and weapons across the border.
Alan Regalado, an agent along the border in Tucson, Arizona, founded the TEAM Kids program -- "Together Educating and Mentoring Kids" -- to warn students about the cartel recruiters, according to a Fox News report.
Regalado said he made the grim realization that reaching out to teenagers in border communities was sometimes already too late. “We went out to local high schools and I noticed that students were already recruited at that point," he told Fox.
So the agent and his team have started taking their message to kids as young as elementary school-age. The Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office has been their to help the program by talking with kids about cases they've prosecuted. Officials told Fox they had already prosecuted three kids in 2020.
“At this school I had promised the kids that if you are caught with dangerous drugs I’m sending you to prison and that’s what ended up happening to this 17 year old...this student was an honor roll student, you know he was a very good student, he wanted to go NAU and he wanted to study criminal justice, so he thought 'I can’t afford to go to college so one way of being able to pay for my college is to run dope,'” Santa Cruz County Attorney George Silva said.
“[Children] do it because they think it’s cool but they also do it because of the easy money… the minimum sentence is 3.5 years and obviously prosecuting them as adults means that they would be convicted felons for the rest of their lives."
TEAM's four-week program focuses on the signs of criminal exploitation as well as the dangers of becoming involved in a cartel, Fox reports. Regalado warns kids to avoid recruiters on social media, in video games and by word-of-mouth around school.
T.E.A.M. Kids also hosts a "parent symposium," which educates adults in the community. Agent Regalado said more than 400 people came to their last event in Phoenix this past November.