Drugs on the Border


      Immigration is a big issue in this Presidential campaign and there's a harsh reality on the border that you may be surprised to hear exists in America. U.S. border towns are so influenced by the influx of illegal smugglers and drugs, that it has worked its way into the fabric of daily life.

      To see for ourselves, Full Measure visited Douglas, Arizona, a town of about

      17-thousand. It's just across the border from the Mexican town of Agua Prieta, a famous battle site of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900's.

      Our guide is a Douglas native and Border Patrol agent who views the town's challenges as a testament to the larger border problems facing the US.

      Art Del Cueto: It's just well-known. It's just well-known who's involved in drugs. It's well-known on both sides.

      For U.S. Border Patrol Agent Art Del Cueto, the dusty drive south to his hometown of Douglas is a twisted trip down memory lane.

      Del Cueto: This is 10th Street. I grew up here, and I remember driving through these streets all the time.

      At the Douglas Port of Entry, he still finds a familiar face.

      Del Cueto: As a kid, we used to go into Mexico all the time.

      A billion dollars in legal trade passes through this port each year, and then there's the illegal trade. Unknown amounts of marijuana, opium and heroin are smuggled in vehicles or across the fence.

      On the other side of the fence is the Mexican city Agua Prieta.

      Del Cueto: In this area, on the south end, it's basically the Sinaloa Cartel that runs this whole operation.

      It's a well-known drug smuggling corridor controlled by the most powerful drug trafficking organization on the planet.

      Del Cueto: Look at this house. If I had that much money, where I could afford that house, I think Agua Prieta at the border would be the last place I would have built that house.

      It's become a constant theme in Douglas and other U.S. border towns: the corrupting influence of Mexico's drug cartels has worked its way into the community in ways that many Americans would find shocking, but local residents take for granted.

      Del Cueto: Unfortunately, living and growing up here, it's easier to take the bad road. It's less taboo to do the bad thing than it is to take the high road, than it is to do the right thing.

      Growing up, drugs were plentiful and often free for the asking.

      Del Cueto: When I was in sixth grade was the very first time that I saw heroin, the first time that I saw someone using heroin, and it was another kid in junior high.

      The "D" on the hill stands for Douglas. It's used as a navigation marker by smugglers.

      Sharyl: Have you ever wondered what Douglas would be like if it weren't for the drug trade?

      Del Cueto: Three-fourths of the town wouldn't be here. A lot of Douglas exists because of the drug trade.

      Come to a town like this in Arizona and ask about drug cartels, and it's not a bad idea to have extra security. We did.

      Fear of retaliation from the drug cartel interests is why this local resident asked not to be identified. He told us drug traffickers operating in Douglas approached him.

      Resident: They just walked in. It was closing time and they took out a large amount of cash and told me, 'This is how it's going to work.' You don't know if you're going to be assaulted, maybe a gun was going to pull out. I just didn't know what to do.

      Sharyl: And so how did you get out of that situation?

      Resident: I just took my stand and I told them that from day one, you know, my parents always told me, 'You're never going to dirty our name. Work hard for your money. It's better to have no money than dirty money.'

      He believes that rejection of the drug traffickers is why his business rent was tripled, forcing him to close down.

      Daniel Nunez also resists pressure and temptation. He comes from Agua Prieta each day where he lives and takes classes, to work legally in a Douglas coffee house.

      Sharyl: Do you walk over?

      Nunez: Yeah.

      Sharyl: You must have friends and people you know who got mixed up in crime and bad things?

      Nunez: Yeah, actually I have a lot of friends in Mexico. They cross drugs. They tell me, 'Do you want to smuggle? Do you want drugs?' That's something, that's something that I don't do. I don't want that for me. I want to, like I say, I want to grow up, be a good person, have my work, have (a) job.

      Before the drugs, Douglas was the "Smelter City", a booming, western copper smelting town, a stone's throw from the rich discoveries of gold, silver and copper in the 1880's.

      The grand Gadsden Hotel stands as a reminder of Douglas' heyday. Legend has it that Mexico's Revolutionary General Pancho Villa rode his horse up the staircase and chipped the 7th stair from the bottom.

      But the smelter shut down in 1987. Three hundred forty-seven jobs and $27 million a year evaporated from the local economy. Mexico's emerging drug trade was there to fill the void.

      Robert Uribe envisions a different future for Douglas. He's an artist from the Dominican Republic, who owns the coffee shop.

      Uribe: Douglas has all the elements laid out to be successful again, I think. We're in the process of finding that identity.

      Uribe settled here after marrying a local. They hope to help convert the town into a tourist center and art colony.

      Uribe: I'm very excited to be able to present Douglas a new idea, a new vision.

      Sharyl: And no one has approached you and tried to ask you to launder money?

      Uribe: No one.

      Sharyl: Or be part of this?

      Uribe: I've not experienced that. That, to me, shows me that people respect what we do. So I hope that they don't approach me with any of those suggestions of wanting to do anything that's illegal, because that's not what we do.

      Del Cueto would also like to see a different future for his hometown, but says it's a monumental fight given the current state of the border.

      Del Cueto: Tucson sector is still responsible for over 50 percent of all the drugs coming into this country. That's humongous. That's a huge, huge amount. You see people farther into the country that say, "It can't be that bad. It can't be that bad." It is that bad.

      Today, he can't help but engage in an old pastime: pointing out people living lifestyles he says are far beyond what their legitimate salaries would allow.

      Del Cueto: It's the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. People try to turn a blind eye.

      And that realization is the key to how and why Del Cueto says he got out of Douglas and sought a career as a Border Patrol Agent, fighting the very cartels that have long corrupted his home.

      Sharyl: Douglas is a town that what?

      Del Cueto: Douglas is a town that doesn't forget. That's what I would say. It's a town that has taught me a lot of lessons. It teaches a lot of people a lot of lessons, and you have to know how to take those lessons and learn from them.

      We learned a lot about the influence and the method of the drug trade on the Arizona border.

      Note: Art Del Cueto is speaking as President of Tucson Sector Local Union 2544 and not on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

      In the weeks ahead on Full Measure, we'll take you into the tunnels that are the high volume highways for smuggling drugs into the United States. The number and the degree of sophistication are incredible. One border agent called them scary.