Photo: AP A Customs and Border Protection officer watches as a car moves through a large scanning device during a secondary inspection at the San Ysidro port of entry Thursday, June 27, 2013, in San Diego.
A $732 million expansion that has created even longer delays may offer an extra incentive for smugglers who bet that inspectors will move people quickly to avoid criticism for hampering commerce and travel, said Joe Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of ICE investigations in San Diego.
Children are caught with methamphetamine strapped to their bodies several times a week — an "alarming increase," according to Garcia. They are typically paid $50 to $200 for each trip, carrying 3 pounds on average.
Drivers, who collect up to $2,000 per trip, conceal methamphetamine in bumpers, batteries, radiators and almost any other crevice imaginable. Packaging is smothered with mustard, baby powder and laundry detergent to fool drug-sniffing dogs.
Crystals are increasingly dissolved in water, especially during the last year, making the drug more difficult to detect in giant X-ray scanners that inspectors order some motorists to drive through. The water is later boiled and often mixed with acetone, a combustible fluid used in paints that yields clear shards of methamphetamine favored by users. The drug often remains in liquid form until reaching its final distribution hub.
The government has expanded X-ray inspections of cars at the border in recent years, but increased production in Mexico and the Sinaloa cartel's presence are driving the seizures, Garcia said. "This is a new corridor for them," he said.