At Border, Teacher Becomes Unwitting Drug Smuggler
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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.
The alleged smugglers knew her routine — where she lived, where she worked. They referred to her as “the teacher.” They knew her face. Gomez even commented at one point, “She was kind of cute.”
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. Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images