Nightly News   |  October 26, 2011

Mexican drug cartels recruit US kids

Mexican drug cartels are recruiting American kids, some as young as 12, to smuggle drugs into the U.S. The U.S. Border Patrol is trying to combat the problem by going into schools, but law enforcement says the problem is growing. NBC News’ Mark Potter reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We have an NBC News exclusive tonight about a frightening trend in the drug war along the border between the US and Mexico . In the state of Texas , state officials are warning parents that Mexican drug cartels are now recruiting schoolchildren in the US to do their work as drug runners. NBC 's Mark Potter has been covering the war next door for us, and tonight he has the story of a 12-year-old boy caught up in all of it.

MARK POTTER reporting: After a high-speed chase by police, a pickup truck crashed in Alamo , Texas , spilling nearly a half ton of Mexican marijuana bales, this video obtained exclusively by Telemundo . Officers say when they apprehended the lone driver of the truck, they discovered he was a mere 12-year-old boy.

Mr. JOE RODRIGUEZ (Texas Department of Public Safety): It's shocking because it's not what we expect a 12-year-old to be doing.

POTTER: For years, drug traffickers lured thousands of kids in Mexico to do their dirty work, body carrying drug loads and spying on police. This boy from San Diego says he was kidnapped in Mexico and forced to execute four people. When asked how to do it he said...

Unidentified Boy:

POTTER: ...'I decapitated them.' Now police say, with more drugs than ever coming into the US from Mexico , traffickers are recruiting kids on the American side of the border.

Mr. WOODY LEE (United States Border Patrol): They can be just lured with the promise of drive this vehicle from point A to point B , you know, for a couple hundred dollars of cash, which seems a lot for a young person.

POTTER: In Maverick County , Texas , where 25 juveniles were recently arrested on trafficking charges, Sheriff Tomas Herrera says the problem is getting worse.

Sheriff TOMAS HERRERA: Now they're recruiting local kids from the high school , even the elementary.

POTTER: Here along the Rio Grande , which separates Texas from Mexico , the numbers tell the scope of the problem. Fewer than 10 percent of the population live along the border, yet nearly 20 percent of juvenile felony drug cases are filed here. Texas police say the cartels consider kids expendable.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: The cartels really don't care about our children. They'll use them until they're no -- they can't use them anymore.

Unidentified Police Officer: They'll go after you, they'll kidnap you.

POTTER: US Border Patrol agents are going into classrooms, warning students against joining the cartels, showing graphic films about drug trade violence.

POTTER: It's an uphill battle against cartel recruiters who have now set their sights on American kids. Mark Potter , NBC News, Mission, Texas .