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Strategic Drug Threat Developments

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HIDTA Overview

The Arizona HIDTA region encompasses the western and southern counties of Cochise, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yuma and includes the entire U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.1 (See Figure 1 in Preface.) The HIDTA region also contains a number of federal lands controlled by the U.S. Department of Defense, Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Large amounts of illicit drugs are smuggled into the area from Mexico, and bulk cash is transported from the area into Mexico. These trafficking activities are facilitated by several factors unique to the region, including the continuing economic and population growth2 in Arizona's two primary drug markets (Phoenix and Tucson), the highways that connect major metropolitan areas in Arizona with major illicit drug source areas in Mexico, and a remote, largely underprotected border area between Arizona's ports of entry (POEs).

Vast stretches of remote, sparsely populated border areas are located within the HIDTA region; these areas are especially conducive to large-scale drug smuggling. By the end of January 2009, 108 miles of the 262-mile shared border between Arizona and Mexico will have some type of fencing. However, few physical barriers exist in border areas between POEs, particularly in the West Desert area of the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Tucson Sector, to impede drug traffickers, chiefly Mexican DTOs, from smuggling illicit drug shipments into the United States from Mexico. In addition, drug traffickers are able to easily conceal drug shipments among the high volume of legitimate cross-border traffic at the region's POEs, creating significant challenges for law enforcement officers. Thousands of private vehicles, commercial tractor-trailers, and pedestrians that cross the U.S.-Mexico border daily provide ideal cover for drug smuggling operations.

The Arizona HIDTA region's location along the U.S.-Mexico border also makes it vulnerable to homeland security issues, some of which support drug trafficking operations. Drug traffickers and other criminal groups engage in activities such as firearms trafficking and alien smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. Firearms trafficking is a significant threat to the Arizona HIDTA region; many of the firearms used by DTOs in neighboring Mexican states are either obtained in Arizona HIDTA counties or transit the area en route to Mexico. Traffickers use these firearms to protect their smuggling operations from rival smuggling organizations and law enforcement personnel. Alien smuggling is a concern to law enforcement officials in the Arizona HIDTA region. Some criminal organizations smuggle aliens and gang members into the United States. These particular individuals typically have extensive criminal records and pose a threat, not only to the Arizona HIDTA region but also to communities throughout the United States. Alien smuggling organizations reportedly also smuggle aliens from countries other than Mexico, including special-interest countries.3


1. The total population residing within the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) counties accounts for approximately 90 percent of the total Arizona population. Population numbers are based on U.S. Census annual estimates of population for counties as of July 1, 2008.
2. Between July 1, 2007, and July 1, 2008, the Phoenix metropolitan area experienced a 14.5 percent increase in population, and Tucson experienced a 6.5 percent increase. The population residing in the two metropolitan areas (Phoenix and Tucson) accounts for approximately 79 percent (approximately 5 million residents) of the Arizona population. The two major drug market areas within the Arizona HIDTA region are the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas. Population changes are based on U.S. Census annual population estimates for counties as of July 1, 2008.
3. Special-interest countries are those designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals who could bring harm to the United States through terrorism.

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