A Texas law enforcement official said that Mexican drug cartels have lured young children into the drug business.
Cartels call the kids "the expendables," Reuters reported.
Six cartels are allegedly hiring children as young as 11 over the border to do simple tasks, such as moving a car or serving as a lookout, according to Texas officials, who said they'd gathered evidence of the recruitment.
They pay them $50 for the job, and after a few times, the kids get hooked.
The move is also a reflection of how emboldened the cartels have become. Mexican cartels traditionally have tried to avoid provoking U.S. law enforcement, preferring to keep the bulk of their clashes and bloodshed on the Mexican side of the border, where they can more easily rely on corruption and impunity to protect their business.
It's unclear how extensive the recruitment of children is, and how the U.S. might respond.
McCraw said 25 minors have been arrested in one Texas border county alone in the past year for running drugs, acting as lookouts, or doing other work for organized Mexican drug gangs. The cartels are now fanning out, he said, and have operations in all major Texas cities.
Texas shares a porous border with Mexico and its officials have often taken controversial approaches to dealing with the drug scourge. Recently, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that the U.S. should invade Mexico to confront the cartels.
In a less radical approach to the problem of the "expendables," Texas law enforcement is working with the border patrol to discourage children from getting involved and alert parents to the problem.