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 new Homeland Security statistics released this week.
The drugs are yet another vulnerability along a U.S.-Mexico boundary already plagued by record levels of human smuggling — including 10 more terrorism suspects nabbed by the Border Patrol in July alone.
Customs and Border Protection reported seizing 2,071 pounds of fentanyl coming in from Mexico in July. That’s 60% higher than the previous record, set in April, and more than triple the 640 pounds nabbed in June.
In fact, it almost equals the fentanyl seized in all of 2019.
That’s worrisome because authorities say seizures are a yardstick for the overall flow: When more is caught, more is getting through. And that means a devastating amount of drugs likely breached the border last month.
Given the lethality of fentanyl — just 2 milligrams is considered enough to kill — July’s seizures would be enough to slay nearly 470 million people, or nearly one and a half doses for every American.
CBP didn’t comment for this article, but federal authorities have increasingly sounded alarm bells over what they’re 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 new 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 of that 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.
But an increasing amount is now being nabbed by Border Patrol agents as it’s smuggled in between the border crossings, or as drivers are caught at highway checkpoints deeper into the U.S.
San Diego is seeing the ramifications.
Mr. Grossman said the county medical examiner has recorded a 2,375% increase in fentanyl-related deaths from 2016 to 2021.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is orders of magnitude stronger than heroin. It is often added to other drugs, boosting potency, cutting cost and making 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.
But Congress moved to crack down on those shipments, and then-President Trump issued a direct demand to China’s leadership in 2018 to cut it out.
President Xi Jinping agreed to stop the 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, who was U.S. ambassador to Japan at the time and was on the phone listening to the call, told The Washington Times earlier this year after a trip to the southern border.
Now the precursor ingredients are shipped from China to Mexico, where the smuggling cartels process them into fentanyl and then sneak the finished product across the border.
Things may soon get worse.
China earlier 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 unclear whether that will affect the current flows, relieving pressure at the border.
But 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 will send over large groups of migrants specifically to occupy agents, then slip through high-value drugs like fentanyl just down the line.
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 of those drugs are chiefly trafficked at the land borders.
For cocaine, which is less of a land-smuggled drug, seizures 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 still to go in the fiscal year.
By contrast, agents recorded just 15 terrorism suspect arrests at the southern border in all of 2021, and just 11 for the four years before that combined.
CBP has not offered an explanation for the increase, but experts say 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, former chief of the Border Patrol, told The Washington Times earlier this summer.
He described the increasing 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,” said Zachary Mueller, the group’s political director, late last month.
“These dehumanizing lies already have a significant body count and are motivating some Americans to grotesque acts of mass violence,” he claimed.
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 new 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 of the dangers of the journey as a factor in cutting the flow of people.
But 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 — actually rose 1% in July, compared to 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 due to the Title 42 pandemic border-closure policy.