Iron County in Utah is about the furthest thing from a border community.
But Sheriff Kenneth Carpenter says incidents like a traffic stop this month on the interstate, where a deputy nabbed a motorist for reckless driving and found 5 pounds of methamphetamine and $8,000 in cash, are the results of the chaos on the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
State officials have warned sheriffs that Honduran gangs have stepped up drug trafficking along the Wasatch Mountains, Iron County’s SWAT team callouts are “way up” and deputies are finding more guns when they serve search warrants, Sheriff Carpenter said.
“Since the border’s been just wide open now, there’s no control,” he told The Washington Times. “The floodgates have been opened, and we’re seeing it on a much more frequent basis. We’re seeing a surge in the [drug] pipelines, we’re seeing a surge in fentanyl houses, we’re seeing a surge in criminal activity.”
Some voices in Washington say what comes across the U.S.-Mexico boundary makes its way into the interior. In other words, every community is a border community.
Iron County’s experience suggests that’s true.
Communities have worried this year about a nexus between border crossings and the spread of COVID-19 as migrants disperse from border states.
The most significant issues, however, are drugs and what follows from that, Sheriff Carpenter said.
Demand for drugs is soaring, and some analysts blame the pandemic. Latin American cartels have been ready with supply.
Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency that mans the border and ports of entry and is charged with sniffing out contraband, has nabbed nearly 180,000 pounds of methamphetamine so far this fiscal year. That’s a record, even with one month to go.
At more than 10,000 pounds, fentanyl seizures have shattered the record set last year of about 4,800 pounds.
Of the drugs that come primarily across the southern border, only marijuana is showing a significant drop-off.
Border analysts say seizures are good yardsticks. If agents and officers report increases, it means more is getting through the border.
Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, challenged Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the issue at a hearing Wednesday.
“The fentanyl seized this year is enough to kill every man, woman and child in the United States six times over,” Mr. Katko said.
China has traditionally been the chief source of fentanyl but has been tightening its controls on export to the U.S. Mexican smuggling organizations have filled the gap. Most of the heroin reaching the U.S. also comes from Mexican poppy farms.
The flow is up for several reasons, but analysts repeatedly point to the level of distraction for agents and officers. They have been pulled from their regular duties and tasked with processing evacuees from the Afghanistan airlift and babysitting the record numbers of illegal immigrant children and near-record numbers of families that have come across the border since January.
One congresswoman challenged Mr. Mayorkas with a calculation that 75% of Border Patrol agents in one Texas sector have been pulled from regular patrol duties.
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said in another hearing with Mr. Mayorkas last week that a spike in overdose deaths has hit his state particularly hard over the past year.
“As far as I’m concerned, demand reduction remains the key,” he said. “The higher volumes reduce the price of these drugs on the streets, expands the number of drugs available and causes more devastation.”
The Biden administration has announced plans to ramp up pressure on the cartels that control the smuggling of people and drugs into the U.S.
The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it had designated Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela and seven of his associates under the Kingpin Act, effectively freezing their assets held in the U.S.
The government says Mr. Valenzuela Valenzuela is a player in the Sinaloa Cartel and moves heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl out of Nogales, in Sonora, Mexico, right across the border from Nogales, Arizona.
Prosecutors also unsealed a set of 3-year-old drug trafficking charges against Mr. Valenzuela Valenzuela.
Sheriff Carpenter said drugs are tied to guns in his community.
He said addicts steal firearms and trade them for drugs, putting more weapons into the hands of dealers.
“Several years ago, we hardly ever saw guns involved with drug warrants. Now it’s commonplace, where we find stolen guns that have been traded for drugs, or stolen drugs that have been taken down to Las Vegas to be traded for guns,” he said. “It just seems like since the border’s been wide open that it’s become much more frequent for us to hit these pipelines.”
It’s not just border matters.
Sheriff Carpenter said one problem in Utah is the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which reduced the classification for some drug crimes.
The goal, he said, was to get people out of the state prison system and use the savings for more addiction treatment. The result, he said, was more incarceration in Iron County. The state hasn’t come through with the treatment money, so the addicts remain locked up.
“We’re seeing a huge uptick in recidivism and the frequency we’re dealing with these people, over and over again,” the sheriff said.