(CNN) -- Mexican cartels are recruiting Texas high school students to "support their drug, human, currency and weapon smuggling operations on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border," the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday.
The department issued a news release warning parents that their children are at risk to Mexican cartels and have been since 2009. Several incidents involving U.S. teens and Mexican drug cartels in the past 30 days prompted the statement Friday, Steven McCraw, the department's director, told CNN.
"In '09 we started seeing that happening with the bridge cases, when the cartels started getting our teenage students to move drugs across the bridge," McCraw said. "Texas teenagers provide unique compatibility to the cartels. They're U.S. citizens, they speak Spanish, they're able to operate on both sides of the border and they're expendable labor."
Because they're juveniles, it's not likely that they'll be charged by the federal prosecutors, he said.
"Parents should talk to their children and explain how the cartels seek to exploit Texas teenagers and the risks in dealing with these ruthless organizations, especially those parents who live along the Texas/Mexico border," the news release said.
Last week, Texas officers caught a 12-year-old boy in a border county driving a stolen pickup truck containing more than 800 pounds of marijuana. In the past month, two other juveniles from the Rio Grande Valley were "lured" into Mexico and kidnapped, eventually being released after a ransom was paid by the families, according to McCraw.
"There's some indication that they were subjected to the temptations to working with the gangs and cartels," he said.
Teens are sometimes offered as little as $50 to act as drivers for the cartels or the local gangs who support them, McCraw said.
"We want to warn parents for the things to look out for so their child doesn't get involved in this," he said. "It's subtle; it's not always obvious. It's not like a narco will show up at your doorstep with a wad of cash. It could be friends of friends at school influencing their child."
The Texas border region represents 9.7% of the state's population, yet has 19.2% of the state's juvenile felony drug referrals and 21.8% of the state's juvenile felony gang referrals, according to the release.
"We're going to continue to warn parents. We have an obligation to be honest with the public, regardless of how it looks," McCraw said answering comments critics had about the release being issued for political posturing.
"We're not going to overinflate the threat, but we're going to be honest. Al Qaeda has nothing on the savagery of these cartels," he said.
"They don't care what happens to the kids, we do. They're our most precious asset in Texas."