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Aug 12, 2014 8:30 PM by Marisa Mendelson

Heroin and meth seizures by CBP on the rise

NOGALES - What's behind an alarming spike in meth and heroin seizures on the border? News 4 Tucson spent the day with Customs and Border Protection. Customs and Border Protection gave us a behind the scenes look at what's being done to try to stop smugglers.

Over the past few years, CBP Officers have continued to see more meth crossing the border. However, just this year, there has been a huge increase in heroin seizures.

CBP Officers at the Port of Nogales are in a constant game of "Hide and Seek." Their job is to seek out what some people try very hard to hide.

"They have a lot of time, a lot of creativity and a lot of money to spend on developing concealment methods to try to get by us," said Guadalupe Ramirez, CBP's Port Director of the Port of Nogales in Arizona.

CBP Officers showed News 4 Tucson a Chevy Trailblazer. CBP says officers found almost 14 kilos of meth hidden inside the seats of that SUV.

"They were in the front and they were in the back," explained Marcia Armendariz, Supervisory CBP Officer. "As you can tell, it's practically dismantled because we had to get to the packages."

Armendariz then showed News 4 Tucson another SUV. The woman in that vehicle got busted after CBP officers say they found almost three kilos of heroin strapped to her thighs.

"Anywhere you can imagine, we have found narcotics," said Ramirez.

CBP and ICE team up when illegal drugs are found at the border. They're now on high alert because of a recent spike in certain drugs.

"Especially in calendar year 2014, there's been a pretty significant increase in heroin and methamphetamine that's being smuggled," said Eric Balliet, Special Agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Nogales.

News 4 Tucson requested a list of drug seizures from CBP's Tucson Field Office for the past several years. The Tucson Field Office covers eight ports of entry in Arizona: Douglas, Lukeville, Naco, Nogales, The Phoenix Airport, San Luis, Sasabe and The Tucson Airport.

In fiscal year 2012, CBP Officers seized 783 kilograms of meth. The next year that number surged to 1,297 kilograms, which is an almost 66-percent increase from the year before. In just the first six months of 2014, CBP Officers have already found 835 kilos of meth.

"The dope that comes across, the type and quantity of dope, is a direct correlation to what the demand is on the stateside," said Balliet.

The surge of heroin seizures in recent months is even more significant.

In fiscal year 2013, Customs Officers seized 221 kilos. In just the first six months of 2014, they've already found 211 kilos of heroin. That means in just the first half of this year, Customs Officers have already seized almost as much heroin as they did for the entire year in 2013.

So what is CBP doing to make sure these drugs don't get into Arizona?

"We have so many tools to use, starting off primarily with the officer," explained Ramirez.

When Customs Officers question people, they search for certain signs.

"They can tell when someone is nervous, that nervousness will lead to further questioning," said Ramirez. "That additional questioning may lead to a more intensive inspection."

A more intense inspection could include driving through an x-ray, or you could be asked to go to a secure location while officers use various tools to search your vehicle.

While CBP Officers admit they sometimes end up empty-handed, they say they're the best at trying to find what smugglers try their best to hide.

Marisa Mendelson, News 4 Tucson: "What do you want to say to the people who think they can get past you guys?"

Guadalupe Ramirez, CBP Port Director of the Port of Nogales: "Good luck."

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