- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Fentanyl is surging across the southern border at an astronomical rate, with July’s rate of seizures shattering the previous record and tripling June’s rate, according to Homeland Security Department statistics released this week.

The drugs are yet another vulnerability along a U.S.-Mexico boundary plagued by record levels of human smuggling, including 10 more terrorism suspects whom the Border Patrol nabbed in July alone.

Customs and Border Protection reported seizing 2,071 pounds of fentanyl coming in from Mexico in July. That was 60% more than the previous record, set in April, and more than triple the 640 pounds nabbed in June.

It almost equals the amount of fentanyl seized in all of 2019.

That’s worrisome because authorities say the number of seizures is a yardstick for the overall flow. When more fentanyl is found, more is getting through. That means a devastating amount of drugs likely breached the border last month.

Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl is considered enough to kill. Given the drug’s lethality, July’s seizures would be enough to slay nearly 470 million people and amount to nearly 1½ doses for every American.

In its response to The Washington Times, CBP pointed to several large seizures that fueled July’s numbers. One GMC truck stopped by Border Patrol agents was found to have about 250 pounds of fentanyl pills. CBP officers also stopped a GMC Yukon entering from Mexico and found more than 100 pounds hidden inside bags of flour, and cans of ground coffee and powdered milk.

Federal authorities have increasingly sounded alarm bells over what they are seeing from the border.

“A decade ago, we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis,” Randy Grossman, the U.S. attorney in Southern California, said last week ahead of the latest CBP numbers. “The amount of fentanyl we are seizing at the border is staggering.”

Mr. Grossman’s area is ground zero for the chaos.

Of the nearly 2,100 pounds of fentanyl seized in July, two-thirds came through Southern California. The majority, more than 1,100 pounds, was nabbed as smugglers toted it through border crossings, tucked inside cars and trucks, or hidden on their bodies.

Border Patrol agents are finding an increasing amount in attempts to smuggle it between the border crossings, or when drivers are caught at highway checkpoints deeper into the U.S.

San Diego is seeing the ramifications.

Mr. Grossman said the county medical examiner recorded a 2,375% increase in fentanyl-related deaths from 2016 to 2021.

CBP said it is expanding its use of technology to try to stop drug smuggling at U.S.-Mexico border crossings.

Fentanyl is a more recent category of drug and we continue to see more of it on a daily basis,” the agency said in a statement to The Times.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that in orders of magnitude is stronger than heroin. It is often added to other drugs to boost potency, cut costs and make it easier to sustain addictions — and to overdose.

It began seeping into the illicit drug market a decade ago, chiefly supplied through the mail by China.

Congress moved to crack down on those shipments, and President Trump issued a direct demand to China’s leadership in 2018 to stop it.

President Xi Jinping agreed to stop shipments to the U.S., but something was left unsaid in the conversation.

“Xi never agreed to stop sending it to Mexico,” Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, told The Washington Times earlier this year after a trip to the southern border. Mr. Hagerty was the U.S. ambassador to Japan at the time and was on the phone listening to the call. 

Now the precursor ingredients are shipped from China to Mexico, where the smuggling cartels process them into fentanyl and sneak the finished product across the border.

The problem may soon get worse.

China this month announced it would stop cooperating on blocking shipments of fentanyl to the U.S. as part of its retaliation over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

It’s not clear whether that will affect the flows and relieve pressure at the border.

For now, the situation remains a crisis.

The administration’s critics say the flow of drugs is tied to the record surge of illegal immigrants. Border authorities are overwhelmed with the number of people, creating gaps in the line that smugglers exploit.

Agents say cartels send large groups of migrants specifically to occupy agents and then slip through high-value drugs such as fentanyl.

That makes the seizure numbers all the more worrying, said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“This is only the fentanyl that is being seized as the vast majority is getting through undetected, according to the DEA,” he said.

Across the country, CBP’s heroin seizures were up 8% in July and methamphetamine seizures were up 15%. Both drugs are chiefly trafficked at the land borders.

Seizures of cocaine, which is less of a land-smuggled drug, were down 56%.

Drugs weren’t the only warning sign from the border last month.

Border Patrol agents nabbed another 10 people whose names popped in the terrorist screening database, bringing the total to 66, with two months to go in the federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

By contrast, agents recorded just 15 terrorism suspect arrests at the southern border in all of 2021 and 11 for the four years before that combined.

CBP has not offered an explanation for the increase, but experts say that, just like drugs, when more people are caught, more are likely to get through.

“Anybody who actually knows or has a fear they’re on the watch list, they’re coming through those gaps and holes,” Rodney Scott, a former chief of the Border Patrol, told The Washington Times this summer.

He described the alarming numbers as “beyond red flares. Those are rocket flashes going on.”

Immigrant rights advocates object to tying the fentanyl crisis to illegal immigration at the southern border.

America’s Voice, a leading activist group, said it was an attempt to “falsely scapegoat migrants seeking asylum.”

“Migrants are not responsible for the fentanyl entering the country, nor are they an invading force,” Zachary Mueller, the group’s political director, said late last month.

“These dehumanizing lies already have a significant body count and are motivating some Americans to grotesque acts of mass violence,” he said.

July’s border numbers did contain some good news.

Overall illegal crossings of people appeared to tick down to just under 200,000.

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus took credit, saying it appears the administration’s effort to discourage migrants is working.

“This marks the second month in a row of decreased encounters along the Southwest border. While the encounter numbers remain high, this is a positive trend and the first two-month drop since October 2021,” he said.

He pointed to an ad campaign this spring warning would-be migrants about the dangers of the journey as a factor in cutting the flow of people.

Still, his agency’s numbers suggested things aren’t so rosy.

The number of “unique individuals” — those who haven’t tried to cross in the previous year — rose 1% in July from June.

CBP often touts the unique individual number as a better sense of what’s happening at the border, given the high rate of recidivism because of the Title 42 pandemic border-closure policy.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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