EL PASO, Texas - Under the new Illegal Drug Program (IDP) agreement with Mexico, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents on Wednesday turned over to the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico (PGR) a woman who allegedly attempted to smuggle 25 pounds of marijuana into the United States.
This was the first violator, and second case transferred to Mexican authorities as part of the Illegal Drug Program (IDP), which took effect in El Paso on April 15. The IDP agreement allows PGR to prosecute certain Mexican drug smugglers under Mexican law.
Margarita Alvarado Santillano, 25, who was traveling with her two children, applied for admission to enter the United States about 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Ysleta Port of Entry. The woman was driving a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who inspected the vehicle spotted an irregularity in several wooden shelves inside the van. Further inspection, revealed 23 bundles of marijuana, which weighed about 25 lbs., concealed within the shelves.
Under the IDP agreement, ICE agents first present cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office if they involve Mexican nationals caught trying to smuggle drugs into the El Paso ports of entry. Cases not accepted for federal prosecution in the United States are transferred to PGR, which accepts any drug-smuggling case referred to it, regardless of the quantity or type of controlled substance seized. Before this IDP agreement, many of these drug smuggling cases were transferred to local law enforcement agencies for prosecution.
"By increasing the certainty of punishment, we hope that this new agreement will further deter anyone considering smuggling drugs into the United States," said Manuel Oyola-Torres, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "Ultimately, the Illegal Drug Program will reduce drug smuggling and trafficking along the El Paso-Juarez border."
On April 22, ICE special agents turned over a case involving 1,200 lbs. of marijuana seized at El Paso's Bridge of the Americas cargo lot to the PGR for investigation in Mexico. However, based on the circumstances involved, the tractor-trailer driver was not arrested.
Only violators who are Mexican nationals, excluding U.S. permanent residents, will be transferred to PGR. PGR will prosecute the accused drug smugglers; those convicted and sentenced will serve their time in Mexican prisons.
In October 2009, ICE first launched this program in Nogales, Ariz. Since then, ICE has turned over more than 20 cases, and the PGR has prosecuted two, resulting in 10-year sentences for both defendants.