/ Modified jun 27, 2016 7:12 p.m.

Sheriff: Cartels Forcing Migrants to Traffic Drugs

Armed drug smugglers are using threats and intimidation against unwilling migrants.

Migrants attempting to cross the border into the U.S. illegally are being forced by armed drug cartel members to carry drugs, Santa Cruz County's sheriff said Monday.

Last week, three Mexicans were found tied to the border fence in Nogales, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. The men were tied up after they refused to strap on backpacks full of drugs, Estrada said.

The sheriff said one of the men had a hidden cell phone and was able to free a hand to call for help.

Law enforcement officials said it’s part of a rapidly growing trend by drug cartels to force unwilling migrants into the drug smuggling business. On the south side of the border, Estrada warned, the armed cartel thugs are in control.

"They control by intimidation and violence," Estrada said. "They control who comes over. And anybody who risks coming over without making arrangements with them is subject to having some problems.”

He said that means, at the least, being refused access to cross and at worst, being killed for not cooperating.

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