Mexican drug cartels are taking advantage of the chaotic influx of migrants at the US southern border to smuggle thousands of pounds of deadly fentanyl into the country, experts say.
“Border patrol agents are too busy dealing with the influx of migrants, and are not really focused on looking for fentanyl,” Robert Almonte, a Texas-based security consultant and former deputy chief of the El Paso Police Department, told The Post. “Border agents are not getting the support they need from the federal government to stop the flow of fentanyl, which is killing thousands of Americans.”
More than 90 percent of the 10,000 pounds of fentanyl seized in fiscal 2021 occurred at legal border entry points in California and Arizona –—areas where roughly 30 percent of migrants are entering the US, according to CBP statistics.
Meanwhile, In areas like New Mexico and Texas, where border agents are overwhelmed with nearly 70 percent of migrant entries, there have been fewer seizures — less than 5 percent — of the deadly synthetic opioid, experts told The Post.
So far this year, of the more than 1.2 million migrant “encounters” along the length of the 1,900-mile border with Mexico, more than 732,000 took place in the southwest border sectors that comprise El Paso, Rio Grande Valley, Del Rio and Laredo, according to CBP statistics.
Fentanyl is largely being produced by the Sinaloa Cartel, which was controlled by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman before he was sentenced to life in prison in Brooklyn federal court for murder and drug trafficking in 2019. Unlike cocaine or marijuana, the synthetic opioid is relatively cheap to manufacture, with Mexican labs operating around the clock and using precursor chemicals imported from China, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
In addition to producing fentanyl in pill form, the opioid is being added to other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, to increase their potency.
Fentanyl has been a major factor in the rise of overdose deaths in the US over the last few years. Last year, there were nearly 108,000 overdose deaths in the US, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re losing more people to fentanyl overdoes than guns, suicides and traffic accidents combined,” Almonte told The Post. “This is a crisis. I get mad because I don’t think people get mad enough about what’s happening.”
In the late 1980s and 1990s when the smuggling of cocaine was at an all-time high across the southern border, federal authorities “put a chokehold” on the flow by inspecting every vehicle that came across the border, Almonte said. “Right now, border agents aren’t getting the support, they’re not getting the canine units and they’re not getting the personnel to put more eyes on the problem.”
Most of the fentanyl that makes its way into the US from Mexico is transported via both commercial and private vehicles through frontier checkpoints in California and Arizona, according to CBP statistics. Authorities have found the drugs stashed in the cargo of commercial trucks and tucked into the door panels of private vehicles. They have also found fentanyl strapped to or inside the bodies of pedestrians, crossing the border.
Traffickers regularly transport fentanyl using “backpackers” — Mexican couriers who race across the border and deposit knapsacks laden with the opioid at a predetermined location on the US side, or who hook up with traffickers on the US side that then transport the fentanyl across the country.
“I can say with 100% assurance that the criminal drug cartels in Mexico will stop at nothing to get fentanyl into the United States,” a DEA spokeswoman told CBS last month.
Last year, drug sniffing dogs in the El Paso sector found fentanyl strapped to a 30-year-old man’s groin area. In September, border agents in the same sector also stopped a 48-year-old woman who “presented herself for inspection when a CBP officer noticed travel anomalies and nervous behavior,” reads a CBP press release. Upon a secondary inspection, the woman admitted that she was concealing narcotics “within her vaginal cavity.”
In March, an Arizona woman was sentenced to five years in prison for smuggling fentanyl and heroin into the US from Mexico. Michelle Krystal Mendez, 36, was arrested in November 2020 after a CBP canine patrol stopped in front of her vehicle at the border crossing in Nogales. Authorities found nearly five pounds of fentanyl and two pounds of heroin “carefully hidden” inside the battery compartment under the hood of Mendez’s car, according to a CBP statement.
On Wednesday, US Customs and Border Protection officers seized nearly $340,000 worth of fentanyl — more than 22 pounds — at the Hidalgo International Bridge in southern Texas according to a CBP statement.
Despite that seizure at one of the busiest migrant border crossings, Almonte and others believe that fentanyl trafficking in the region will remain largely undetected because border agents are increasingly overwhelmed with a surge of migrants, and because Mexican law enforcement is doing little to crack down on both the flow of both migrants and drugs.
This week, more than 15,000 migrants were gathering in southern Mexico as they prepared to make their way to the US border.
Over the last year, Chinese criminal gangs have also started working hand in hand with the Mexican cartels, operating behind shell companies that offer legitimate services such as computer maintenance and veterinary services, according to a report.
“China-Mexico law enforcement cooperation against the trafficking of fentanyl and precursor agents for meth and synthetic opioids remains minimal,” reads a report, “China and Synthetic Drugs: Geopolitics Trumps Counternarcotics Cooperation,” released in March by the Brookings Institution.
“China’s enforcement of its fentanyl regulations is highly opaque, but remains limited,” writes Vanda Felbab-Brown, the report’s author. “Beijing mostly emphasizes that it cannot take actions against companies selling non-scheduled meth and fentanyl precursors even when they blatantly cater to drug cartels. As a result, US-China counternarcotics cooperation remains fraught.”
For Almonte and others, fentanyl — cheap to produce and easy to transport because the pills are often the size of aspirin — will continue to flood the US market from Mexico.
“I interviewed a state police officer in the state of Chihuahua who told me that we’d better get ready in the US,” he said. “The whole thing is only going to get worse.”
By: Ny Post