Arizona signs along I-8 warn of human, drug smuggling violence

| 9/2/2010

Truckers making their way east and west through Arizona may want to avoid areas near Interstate 8. The federal government has posted signs warning of violence and criminals tied to drug and human smuggling.

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(Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.)

The Bureau of Land Management posted signs this summer warning the public to avoid local routes off of Interstate 8. The highway links Tucson and San Diego, and is a major trucking route that is also used by human and drug smugglers, authorities say.

Dennis Godfrey, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, said his agency put the signs out in June in response to increased danger in a 40-mile area south of I-8 near the Sonoran Desert National Monument. That 487,000-acre desert includes about 200,000 acres south of I-8 that have seen increased drug and human smuggling activity in recent months, Godfrey said.

Violence in the area has surged in recent months, though it hasn’t become prevalent on the highway, Godfrey said. Instead, authorities are asking travelers to be careful and try to avoid access roads and other areas south of I-8.

“We are not concerned about the traffic on Interstate 8,” Godfrey said. “I would drive I-8 without any concern at all.”

The massive state desert acreage and an even larger expanse of Indian reservation make up an eight-mile buffer between most of Arizona and Mexico during the 40-mile stretch, and have become key smuggling routes for violent Mexican cartels to move humans and drugs.

Statistics of violence in the region weren’t immediately available Thursday.

“These areas are not closed. There are no barriers up, and no one is saying citizens can’t go in that area,” Godfrey said. “Nobody is ceding control of land to lawbreakers. … What we’re saying is it’s so vast that you can’t patrol or provide law enforcement support for every area that could potentially be used (by traffickers). The intent is to make the areas safe for law-abiding citizens, and sometimes our resources are not adequate for that.”

Truckers who avoid stopping between Casa Grande and Gila Bend should avoid the most dangerous smuggling routes. The violence, Godfrey said, has actually decreased in other border areas in Arizona.

Those who do stop on the south side should be careful and should call local law enforcement or dial 9-1-1 if they see suspicious activity, he said.

“The advice we would give is to be aware of your surroundings,” Godfrey said. “If you happen to be in the Monument, if there are abandoned cars, just leave them alone and go about your business and get out of there as you can.”

Trucker Doug Moore, an OOIDA life member from Indianapolis, said he drives on I-8 every few weeks while hauling for a national household moving carrier. Moore said he was surprised to read about the signs Thursday.

“It startled me,” Moore told Land Line. “We’ve got trucks going through there every day.”

Moore said he doesn’t plan on stopping as he makes his way across I-8. Even so, he doesn’t like to think that problems associated with the border have crept their way up to his routes.

“Let’s put it this way,” Moore said. “I’m seriously thinking about starting to carry a gun again.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer