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ICE: Number of Young Drug Mule Arrests Rising

SAN DIEGO -- The number of children being arrested trying to smuggle illegal drugs across the border continues to rise, according to new numbers released by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Federal officials told 10News that every time the violence subsides in Tijuana, more young drug mules are arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border. They said they are seeing more instances of harder drugs and more young teenage girls being recruited locally to smuggle those drugs across the border.

Photos obtained by 10News show teens who have recently been arrested trying to cross into San Diego with illegal drugs strapped to their bodies and hidden inside their cars.

In 2011, 190 juveniles -- ranging from 13 to 18 years old -- were arrested. That is a 13 percent increase from 2010. Thirty-three arrests have been made so far this year.

"The kids we see being involved in this are kids that have familiarity crossing the border," said ICE special agent Joe Garcia. "They're targeted because their familiarity is going to give them a little confidence."

Garcia, however, said what was most alarming is that methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine are now the drugs that are primarily being smuggled in instead of marijuana.

"About 80 percent of meth in the U.S. is now produced in Mexico," said Garcia.

Garcia said Mexican drug cartels are promising young drug mules about $200 for each successful run. The payment is a small reward compared to the repercussions if caught. The consequences can be life-changing not only for the young smuggler but also for their parents, who end up being ordered to pay for their children's time in juvenile detention.

"If they're there 365 days, the average cost is $200 a day that the family is on the hook for," said Garcia.

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