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California Border Alliance Group Drug Market Analysis
June 2007


The California-Mexico border is one of the most active drug smuggling corridors along the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican DTOs smuggle large quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine through California POEs destined for wholesale markets within the CBAG region and throughout the United States. Illicit drugs are generally transported in private and commercial vehicles, typically concealed in hidden compartments or in cargo shipments; however, sometimes they are transported openly on the seat or in the trunk of a vehicle. Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine seizures at the San Diego and El Centro POEs increased from 2005 through 2006. CBP data indicate that the amount of cocaine seizures increased 72 percent from 2005 through 2006; heroin seizures increased 102 percent; and methamphetamine, 55 percent. There was a 14 percent decrease in the amount of marijuana seized at POEs from 2005 through 2006. (See Table 2.) Mexican DTOs primarily use Interstates 5, 8, 15, and 805 as principal trafficking routes through and from the CBAG region. Additionally, Mexican DTOs use I-5 and I-15 to connect to I-10, an east-west highway that traverses the southern portion of the United States from Barstow, California, to Jacksonville, Florida.

Table 2. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Drug Seizures, by Drug, in Kilograms, San Diego and El Centro Sectors, 2004-2006

Drug 2004 2005 2006
Marijuana 87,973 111,535 95,373
Cocaine 1,997 2,287 3,934
Heroin 69 46 93
Methamphetamine 368 864 1,343

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as of June 5, 2007.

Mexican DTOs also smuggle illicit drugs through remote areas between POEs along the
California-Mexico border. Traffickers often use backpackers, private vehicles, and all-terrain vehicles while smuggling drugs between POEs, particularly in traversing the mountainous areas in eastern San Diego County and the desert and sand dune areas in Imperial County. Drug seizures between POEs dramatically increased from 2005 to 2006. U.S. Border Patrol data indicate that the amount of marijuana seizures increased 64 percent from 2005 through 2006; cocaine seizures increased 120 percent; heroin, 234 percent; and methamphetamine, 94 percent. (See Table 3.)

Table 3. U.S. Border Patrol Drug Seizures, by Drug, San Diego and El Centro Sectors, 2004-2006

Drug 2004 2005 2006
Marijuana (lb) 44,573 55,847 91,365
Cocaine (lb) 146 317 698
Heroin (oz) 6 180 601
Methamphetamine (lb) 34 67 130

Source: U.S. Border Patrol data, as of March 1, 2007.

According to law enforcement officials, the number of subterranean tunnels used by Mexican DTOs through which to smuggle drugs into the United States is increasing. Approximately 31 tunnels have been discovered along the California-Mexico border since 1993--15 were discovered in 2006 alone. Law enforcement reporting indicates that one of the tunnels was accidentally discovered when a law enforcement vehicle fell into a passageway. Use of subterranean tunnels is mostly limited to large-scale Mexican DTOs because they have the resources and influence needed to organize, fund, and construct these tunnels. Despite increased use of subterranean tunnels by Mexican DTOs, marijuana has been the only drug seized from tunnel operations along the California-Mexico border; however, given the polydrug nature of Mexican DTOs, it is quite likely that most drugs trafficked by Mexican DTOs have, at one time or another, been smuggled to the United States through tunnels. Moreover, subterranean tunnels may pose a distinct security threat to the country because they are a potential means by which terrorists can enter--or smuggle weapons into--the United States. Law enforcement officials believe that DTOs increased their use of tunnels after enhanced border security measures were implemented following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mexican DTOs may also use air and rail conveyances to smuggle illicit drugs into the CBAG region from Mexico. San Diego and Imperial Counties have 48 airstrips recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous, privately owned, "soft surface" runways, which can be used by low-flying aircraft attempting to avoid radar detection to smuggle illicit drugs into the region. A San Diego County park ranger from the Agua Caliente County Park (an area long popular with drug smugglers) noted significant clandestine air activity at the Agua Caliente airfield. The ranger also noticed on several occasions that both ends of the runway had burn marks in the asphalt, and there was evidence that flares had been used. The potential for rail smuggling exists at the Calexico and San Ysidro POEs, which have the only POE rail crossings on the California-Mexico border. Law enforcement officials report that traffickers often use spotters to monitor rail traffic traversing the U.S.-Mexico border. Individuals conducting surveillance, equipped with Nextel push-to-talk phones, have been observed on the U.S. side of the Calexico POE, positioned a short distance from locations at which trains enter the United States from Mexico.

Mexican DTOs use recreational and commercial watercraft to smuggle illicit drugs into the region along coastal areas, including the San Diego Bay and surrounding bays and harbors. Maritime smuggling operations into southern California often originate from Rosarito Beach, Popotla Beach, and La Salina Beach in northern Baja California, Mexico. Mexican vessels departing from these locations regularly travel to the Coronado Islands off the coast of Baja California, where they offload drug shipments to U.S.-registered pleasure craft that transport the shipments into the San Diego area, often blending with legitimate maritime traffic. Additionally, the Port of San Diego handles cargo shipments from illicit drug source countries and transit areas, including Mexico, Central and South America, and Asia, particularly South Asia. U.S. law enforcement authorities often seize illicit drugs from commercial vessels that cross the Eastern Pacific Ocean, originating in countries from these areas en route to the Port of San Diego or nearby locations. For instance, during fiscal year (FY) 2005, the latest year for which data are available, approximately 300,000 pounds of cocaine were seized in the Eastern Pacific, an increase of 25 percent from FY2004.

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