Mexican drug cartels are using children as young as 11 in their smuggling operations in Texas, Reuters is reporting.
Six of the cartels, including the violent Zetas, are paying children $50 to move a vehicle from one area to another area, as well as using them as lookouts or for other tasks.
Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told Reuters the cartels call these workers "the expendables."
In the past, cartels have recruited children in Mexico as paid assassins, and the Columbian FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) use children to bring grenades into public markets, two cartel experts tell POLICE Magazine.
Typically the cartels would recruit Mexican children, says Sylvia Longmire, a former Air Force intelligence officer and author of "Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug War." The children would also typically come from underprivileged homes.
"For any kind of kids, easy money is a very attractive lure," said Longmire. "It's easier for them to recruit Mexican kids. If they screw up, they have some leverage, because they have families in Mexico or are illegal in this county."
In Mexico, the cartels also use young children as lookouts, or los halcones (falcons). By working as lookouts, the kids can earn their stripes in the cartel, says Richard Valdemar, POLICE Magazine's gang expert.
"They used them as lookouts for a long time," Valdemar said. "That's the prerequisite for being brought into the group. They have kids on the hills with cell phones, to get the loads through. They do that for a few years, and then they bring you in as an assassin."