Migrant Surge Degrades Border Patrol’s Ability to Stop Smugglers

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 24, 2021

Almost all of the focus during the current ongoing border crisis has been the large number of migrants — and in particular unaccompanied children and adults travelling with children in “family units” — Border Patrol has apprehended in the last two months, and their care. Lost has been the fact that seizures of fentanyl — a truly deadly drug — are up, suggesting there is an even larger crisis at the border.

In the first seven months of the fiscal year, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border seized 2,435 pounds of cocaine, 7,197 pounds of methamphetamine, 654 pounds of fentanyl, and 266 pounds of heroin.

Projecting those numbers forward on an annual basis, Border Patrol is on track to seize 4,174 pounds of cocaine, 12,337 pounds of meth, 1,121 pounds of fentanyl, and 456 pounds of heroin at the Southwest border.

In FY 2020, by contrast, Border Patrol apprehended 4,194 pounds of cocaine, 20,317 pounds of meth, 786 pounds of fentanyl, and 538 pounds of heroin. That means that Border Patrol is slated to seize slightly less cocaine and heroin, less meth, but a whole lot more fentanyl this fiscal year than last.

Fentanyl is death. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes it as “80-100 times stronger than morphine”. Oxford Treatment Center explains that two milligrams of the drug is a lethal dose for most people (heavy-duty users can handle more), meaning that 671 pounds of the drug would be sufficient to kill more than 148.3 million people.

All of these drugs have killed Americans in increasing numbers in recent years, however.

The latest federal government statistics reveal that the number of deaths involving “synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with more than 36,359 overdose deaths reported in 2019”; that “overdose deaths involving heroin rose from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,469 in 2016”; and that “overdose deaths involving cocaine rose from 3,822 in 1999 to 15,883 in 2019”.

Overdose deaths from “psychostimulants with abuse potential (primarily methamphetamine)” are also on the increase in recent years.

Those drug deaths compound the other deleterious effects of illegal narcotics on lives, careers, families, and communities.

But Border Patrol’s drug seizure statistics at the Southwest border this fiscal year likely do not tell the whole story — the large amount of those deadly drugs that agents are not stopping.

To try to quantify that, I turn to statistics from CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO), which performs inspections at the ports of entry.

Through April FY 2021, at the ports along the Southwest border, OFO officers have seized 92,484 pounds of meth (158,544 pounds projected for the whole year), 14,972 pounds of cocaine (25,666 pounds projected), and just one pound short of 5,450 pounds of fentanyl (9,341 pounds projected).

Those projections would well exceed FY 2020’s totals for meth (149,774 pounds), cocaine (14,786 pounds), and fentanyl (3,758 pounds, which has already been well exceeded). Meth seizures at the ports are scheduled to increase almost 6 percent this fiscal year over last, cocaine 73.5 percent, and fentanyl almost 147 percent.

OFO’s seizure numbers indicate that Mexican drug trafficking groups (which “dominate the import and distribution of cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in the United States”, according to the Council on Foreign Relations) are moving more product into the United States.

So why is Border Patrol falling short on its FY 2020 numbers when it comes to seizures of meth and cocaine if OFO is exceeding theirs, on a projected basis? The obvious answer is that Border Patrol agents are too busy apprehending, processing, and caring for vast numbers of migrants to stop more drugs.

CBP officers in OFO can regulate the flow of aliens and U.S. citizens seeking admission at the ports of entry, and those ports are highly controlled environments. Other than rare scenarios in which vehicles and pedestrians “run the port” to bypass inspection, entrants don’t get in until CBP officers say they can.

That script is flipped between the ports on the border. Agents must respond to illegal entrants and smugglers, who get to pick the time and place (usually highly inconvenient for Border Patrol agents) that they cross. And, to the degree that they can, agents must respond to the entry of one migrant or one thousand.

In April, those agents apprehended more aliens than in any month in the last 21 years, and the second largest number of unaccompanied children in any month for which Border Patrol keeps records (back to October 2009, and second only to the month before).

Similarly, the number of migrants in family units apprehended in April was the sixth-highest monthly total ever (records go back to October 2012) — just behind the four months from March to June at the height of the “border emergency” in FY 2019, and March 2021.

All migrants require some level of attention, but the children and migrants in family units require even more. They have to be segregated by family (when possible) and demographic group for their own protection (under-aged girls cannot be detained with unrelated adult males, for example). Tender-aged unaccompanied children, in particular, need much more care.

That requires agents’ time and CBP resources not therefore employed patrolling the border for other migrants who don’t want to be caught (there were more than 40,000 “got aways” in April) and for drug smugglers.

That said, it is not like Border Patrol is removing all of the aliens it catches. Under the Biden administration, agents have released more than 61,000 of them into the United States (although by law, they are all supposed to be detained until they are granted asylum or removed). That is not “catch and release” — it’s “catch, release, and disperse”.

In a stark contrast, just 47 migrants total were released between October and December 2020.

That does not even count the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children DHS has transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Almost all of them have been or will be released to “sponsors” (most of whom are here illegally, based on past trends), and will remain in the United States indefinitely awaiting hearings that take more than four-and-a-half years (assuming they appear at all).

At a March 13 hearing, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) revealed, in fact, that the illegal entry of children and families is part of the criminals’ business model. He explained that smugglers and traffickers send those migrants across to “divert Border Patrol agents” so that those smugglers and traffickers can move other migrants, drugs, and other contraband across the border.

Moreover (and as a likely consequence), Portman explained that, notwithstanding the large amounts of drugs that are seized by CBP at the border, “most drugs get through”.

The Southwest border is 1,954 miles long, and there are fewer than 17,000 agents to patrol it, total (agents work 50-hour weeks, so there are fewer than 5,060 agents “on the line” at any given time). When that handful of agents is swamped by massive numbers of migrants — and in particular migrant children and families — something’s got to give.

And that “something” is drugs that are not seized at the border before they poison American communities.

In an August 2020 commentary captioned: “Drugs not diapers: With migrant numbers down, border patrol can seize illicit narcotics”, I explained that because Border Patrol had apprehended just 38,347 migrants in July 2020 (the numbers have since been modified up slightly, to 38,536) — 88.5 percent of whom were single adults — agents were freed up to seize larger numbers of drugs before they entered the United States.

Regrettably, those trends have shifted.

In April, agents apprehended 360 percent more aliens than they had in July 2020 (173,460, 5,782 on average per day), just 62.4 percent of whom were single adults (the rest were aliens in family units and unaccompanied children).

And (not surprisingly) as the foregoing shows, Border Patrol’s Southwest drug seizures — with one deadly exception — are down, raising the question of how much death smugglers are now funneling into communities across the United States.

Of course, all of this could be avoided if Congress and the administration closed the loopholes that encourage illegal immigration. There is no evidence, however, that President Biden and congressional Democrats will do so, at least not anytime soon.

In his 1985 hit, “Smuggler’s Blues” (which glorified the money and dangers of the 1980s narcotics trade), former “Eagles” frontman Glenn Frey described what he called “the politics of contraband”, which tied together traffickers, law enforcement, and the U.S. government.

Today, it appears that the politics of the Biden administration is driving the contraband, as it favors diapers for the youngest of migrants over Border Patrol drug seizures.