Teacher Becomes Drug Smuggler Unknowingly

 

Ana Isela Martinez Amaya, a teacher at an El Paso school, spent more than a month in a Juarez jail after Mexican police found drugs in her car at the Mexico-U.S. border crossing. But FBI agents uncovered a complex drug operation that involved tracking Ford cars and copying their keys. Their investigation ultimately led to charges against Martinez being dropped.

NPR- July 21, 2011: “For Ana Isela Martinez Amaya, May 26 began like any other school morning.

Martinez got up at 5:45 a.m. and got her 6-year-old daughter ready for school. At 6:30, the two of them left their house in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in a tan 2003 Ford Focus. They headed toward the Stanton Street Bridge crossing into Texas.

Martinez is a teacher at a bilingual charter school in El Paso. She had just been named the Teacher of the Year at her school.

By the end of the day, the 35-year-old mother of two would be under arrest, accused of attempting to smuggle more than 100 pounds of marijuana into the United States.

Because Martinez crossed daily into the U.S., she had applied for a SENTRI pass from the Department of Homeland Security. The pass costs $122 a year and pass holders must submit to a rigorous background check. In exchange, they can use the SENTRI Express Lane at the border, where travelers generally are processed much faster.

Because of her SENTRI pass and because of her regular commute, Martinez unwittingly had fallen victim to a new scheme by a local drug smuggling gang.

‘This Is Not Happening To Me’

As Martinez drove onto the bridge on the morning of May 26, her daughter was strapped into a car seat in the back. Newspaper vendors wandered through the traffic, waving the latest edition of El Diario. Filthy young men with squirt bottles threatened to wash commuters’ windshields. Mexican soldiers were randomly inspecting vehicles on the Mexican side of the bridge.

When I saw the two suitcases in my trunk, I thought it was like a bad dream. I thought, ‘This is not real. This is not happening to me.’

- Ana Isela Martinez

“They asked me to pull over,” Martinez says. “They also asked me to open my trunk.”

One of the requirements of the SENTRI pass program is that users must keep their personal belongings visible to the customs agents. So on her morning commutes, Martinez would put her purse and her daughter’s schoolbag on the front passenger seat. She says she never put anything in her trunk.

“So when I saw the two suitcases in my trunk, I thought it was like a bad dream,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is not real. This is not happening to me.’ Of course, you know already that something bad is inside.”

Inside was more than 100 pounds of marijuana.

Martinez immediately declared that she’d never seen the two bags before. She begged the soldiers to let her call her husband to come pick up their daughter, but they wouldn’t let her.

“I had to keep myself calm because I wanted her to remain calm,” Martinez recalls.

“She was looking at me,” she says of her 6-year-old. “She was looking at the military all around us, with their weapons. … She was very mature for a little girl at that age. Very calm.”

Martinez saw one of her co-workers driving by and she frantically waved for her to stop. Martinez tried to give her daughter to the co-worker but again the military officers wouldn’t allow it. Eventually the soldiers took Martinez and her daughter together to the local prosecutor’s offices.

“We stayed there a couple of hours. Finally, they let me give my daughter to my husband,” she says. Martinez was sent straight to a Mexican jail.”

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