By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Local and federal law enforcement officers are pushing back against claims made by Democratic members of Congress that the majority of seizures of illicit fentanyl occurring at ports of entry at the southern border is proof that Republicans are exaggerating the border crisis.
On Tuesday, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, claimed the majority of fentanyl, 90%, was being seized at the southern border at ports of entry and that over 80% of those apprehended for smuggling it were American citizens.
“We’ve got to stop the flow of fentanyl into our country,” he said. “It’s a matter of life and death.” However, he said, “the vast majority of fentanyl coming into the country is seized at ports of entry, not from migrants traveling across the border on foot,” adding, “90% of fentanyl seizures were at ports of entry at vehicle check points and not between,” and “what’s more puzzling … is that 80% of people convicted of smuggling [fentanyl and drugs] were American citizens, not foreign nationals.”
Similar arguments were made by Democrats at a House Judiciary hearing on border security last week.
But Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief John Modlin said Border Patrol agents seized more than 700 pounds of fentanyl in 2022, about half of which was in the field, meaning not at ports of entry.
“To give you an idea of the lethality of fentanyl, that’s enough to kill everyone in Arizona 21 times or basically half the population of the United States,” he said. Agents seized 52% at the port of entry and the rest in the field after “being backpacked across the border,” he said.
Former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey formed the Arizona Border Strike Force to provide state funds to local law enforcement to interdict increased crime stemming from the southern border.
In 2021, strike force members “seized over 700 pounds of fentanyl in one year, compared to 284 in the five years prior,” Jobe Dickinson, president of the Mesa-Arizona-based Border Security Alliance, told The Center Square. “There are 4,500 pills in one pound.”
The data excludes seizures by local police statewide and federal statistics, he said.
“The amount of fentanyl that is coming across the southern border, getting past border patrol and local law enforcement and into the hands of our citizens is staggering,” he added. “Since Border Patrol agents can’t patrol the border while they’re processing illegal immigrants, more fentanyl is making it further into the U.S. That is why more local police and sheriffs’ seizures of fentanyl is skyrocketing.”
Mr. Dickinson argues the lack of border security is impacting local Arizona law enforcement. Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs’ plan to defund the strike force will cripple local law enforcement’s ability to thwart cartel and criminal activity, including continuing to seize record amounts of fentanyl, he said.
Mr. Dickinson also asked, “How is all this fentanyl coming through the ports, passing by inspection officers and high-tech machines but then patrol officers are doing traffic stops and seizing record numbers in the field? We see how much is coming into our communities,” he said, from those bringing it in illegally entering between ports of entry.
Chief Modlin testified that Tucson Sector agents are primarily apprehending single military-age men wearing camouflage who work with the Mexican cartels. They are dangerous, and include felons who’ve previously been deported, and have assaulted Border Patrol agents, he said.
U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-Washington, pointed to an increase in fentanyl seized at the border around June-August 2020, stating, “we had a change in president in 2020 and some changes in border policy, and what we can see here is the facts show we are seizing a lot more fentanyl.”
A change in presidents didn’t occur until January 2021, after which President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas began halting implementation of existing border security and immigration policies, including halting border wall construction, drastically altering deportation and detention policies, attempting to end the Remain in Mexico policy and enforcement of Title 42, creating new visa and parole programs, among other policies over which his administration has been sued multiple times by roughly half of all U.S. states.
Rep. Porter said as a mother, she didn’t “want that fentanyl in this country. It is dangerous and it kills people.” She also said record seizures were “a sign that our Border Patrol and our agents at ports of entry, which is of course where the vast majority of fentanyl is seized, are doing their jobs. What I find interesting is despite success here what we’re hearing is an effort to characterize seizures as failures.”
Rep. Porter quoted Republican members of Congress referring to “Biden’s border crisis” and the amount of fentanyl being seized. “To me, the fact that you’re seizing these drugs is a success,” she said to the agents testifying.
Terrell County, Texas, Sheriff Thad Cleveland, a former long-time Border Patrol agent who served in Arizona, told The Center Square, “Every seizure of any drug or narcotic is a success. However, what is frightening now, almost weekly we are being notified of record seizures for fentanyl. Why is that? It’s because cartels are having so much success smuggling, it emboldens them to send larger and larger amounts.
“It doesn’t matter if 90% or 99% of fentanyl is seized at the ports of entry,” Sheriff Cleveland said, because the numbers “represent what is seized, not how it is crossed or more importantly, what gets away.”
Sheriff Cleveland also said Congress needed to prioritize border and national security and address immigration reform after the border is secure.