Agents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border teamed up in May to launch a massive series of marijuana raids they described as “mirrored operations.” The busts netted more than $12 million in illegal cannabis and led to the arrests of nearly 500 people on both sides of the border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection used flight crews from its Air and Marines Operation to carry out raids on the north side of the border, while Mexico’s patrol operations did the same to the south. The American operation was coordinated by the Foreign Operations Branch of Customs’ Tucson Sector and were dubbed “Double Threat.” A similar operation, titled “Relampago Azul,” was carried out in Mexico.
The goal of the coordinated raids was to disrupt and dismantle drug cartels that work on both sides of the border to cultivate, traffick, and sell marijuana, according to Customs officials. The busts were specifically focused on high-traffic smuggling routes in the Nogales, Arizona, region.
467 people arrested
The two sides coordinated after sifting through regional trends in marijuana shipments, Customs said. The efforts started in the last two weeks of April and ended April 30. They culminated with the cannabis-related arrests of 467 people and the seizure of 11 stolen vehicles and 25,000 pounds of illicit marijuana.
The street value of the pot was pegged at roughly $12.5 million, while the cars had been stolen from the U.S. side of the border and were seized in Mexico. Officers on both sides of the border also seized about $250,000 in U.S. cash and more than $16,000 worth of Mexican pesos.
“The binational operation shows how the integration of information and mirrored enforcement can further secure our borders,” Tucson Sector Chief Paul Beeson said in a written statement. “Some of these drugs were seized in Mexico before they even had a chance to cross the border and further endanger our communities. Our ability to work in a coordinated fashion with our law enforcement partners in Mexico contributes to a safer border environment for us all.”
The busts were bigger than many raids involving Mexican cartels, but they were by no means the largest. Previous operations by border officers and other federal agents have pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal marijuana. A bust in 2009 uncovered a massive marijuana farm in California worth about $1 billion.
Smuggling operations are very common from Mexico into the United States. Traffickers ship illegal marijuana by truck, train, boat, and air. Recent smuggling runs have included efforts to disguise cannabis as watermelons, hide it in bags of frozen avocados, and pass it through elaborate tunnels that run beneath the border.