SAN ANTONIO -- Despite greater enforcement and better technology along the border, drugs keep finding a way across.
While border patrol officers search for Mexican drug cartel members, the newest drug smugglers don’t always show up on the radar.
In the past year, 25 juveniles from Maverick County have been arrested for drug trafficking. More than a hundred others were arrested for drug possession.
For the cartels, Maverick County Sheriff Tomas Herrera said these American teenagers are easy targets.
“They are clean-cut kids,” said Herrera. “Their parents are school teachers, federal employees, state employees, local elected officials. I mean, you’d be surprised.”
Herrera said on average these unassuming teenagers are caught transporting drug loads of more than 200 pounds.
From talking with those who are caught, Herrera said these teenagers view it as easy money.
"The cartels tell them, 'We are going to give you $500, $1,000. All you have to do is go to a parking lot in downtown Eagle Pass and there you will find a parked car,'” the sheriff explained. “'Take it to San Antonio, Texas to this parking lot and just leave it there.'"
Herrera said the cartels make it sound simple and safe.
If caught, Herrera added, the cartels tell these teenagers not to worry. At most, they will be sentenced to ten days in juvenile detention.
“It's a slap on the hand," said Herrera.
Without changes to the law to allow juveniles in drug cases to be tried as adults, Herrera said he sees no end to the drug flow across the border.
But at least one man sees another option.
Six months ago, Army veteran Bruce Ballou was recruited to Eagle Pass to run the juvenile probation office.
On day one, the 54-year-old implemented a military-type approach – teaching the probationers to march in formation and requiring them to follow a physical fitness regimen.
"Traditionally, nothing happened to children. And that's sort of in the process of a change right now," said Ballou.
While time behind bars may be limited to days, the county can sentence teenage drug smugglers to Ballou's rehabilitation program.
Among juvenile offenders, Maverick County has a recidivism rate of more than 60 percent - one of the worst in the state.
"Someone has to tell the kids, 'No!' - that the behavior that they engage in is not acceptable," said Ballou.
While discipline is stressed, Ballou said the focus of his program is making the teenagers aware of the harm they cause their victims and themselves.
Before graduating from the program, all offenders must repay their victims, often by way of community service in drug cases.
Ballou also requires the offenders to come up with what he calls a “basic lay-out statement.”
It’s a statement the probationers must write and memorize that acknowledges what they’ve done wrong, and serves as a plan so they won’t do it again.
Last month, according to the Maverick County Sheriff’s Office, two Eagle Pass teenagers were kidnapped by the drug cartel and taken across the river.
The two were beaten and tortured for five days.
This is what Ballou worries about the most.
"We have to be alarmed. We have to say enough is enough," he says.
Ballou said keeping these teenagers in line is just the start.
Ultimately, he said keeping them out of the shadows of the cartels is what will keep them alive.