In a recent tweet, Rep Jason Chaffetz wrote, “Don’t think our problems at the border are just about Mexico.”
He was right in many ways.
The Utah Republican is the chair of the Subcommittee on National Security (part of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform). The subcommittee focuses on national security and homeland defense. Chaffetz is touring the U.S.-Mexican Border as part of the committee’s upcoming hearings on border security scheduled to begin in May.
Besides the total lack of border security (“No fence. You can walk across the border, with handrails.”) and aliens from numerous countries trying to get into the U.S. (“At Eloy ICE detention facility in Arizona. 1,493 inmates, 900-plus “OTM”. (Other than Mexican)”), there is another serious problem at our border.
That problem is drug trafficking.
Smuggling drugs – an American pastime
To hear the U.S. Border Patrol tell it, one would get the impression that most of the drugs coming across the nation’s southern border are smuggled in by Mexicans. The fact is most of the illicit drug trade is being conducted at the border by Americans. The Mexican drug cartels prefer their mules to look non-Hispanic, believing they can get across the border more easily that those of Mexican descent.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), four out of five arrests by the Border Patrol for drug trafficking are of U.S. citizens.
But the Border Patrol isn’t saying much about it.
CIR writers Andrew Becker, George Schultz and Tia Ghose have concluded, “… the public message that the Border Patrol has trumpeted for much of the last decade, mainly through press releases about its seizures, has emphasized Mexican drug couriers, or mules, as those largely responsible for transporting drugs.”
According to Wired magazine, When a Mexican national is arrested for moving drugs, 38 percent of the time a press releases is issued announcing the arrest. When it is a U.S. citizen, the number drops to 30 percent.
The CIR interviewed one former trafficker who said that Mexican drug cartels seek out middle-aged U.S. citizens because they’re less likely to draw suspicion than young Mexican nationals. Also, the Border Patrol has garnered smaller amounts of drugs with each arrest indicating that the cartels are hiring more people to smuggle smaller drug loads, reducing the chance of a major bust but requiring more people.
The drug trade at the U.S.-Mexican border is also an easy trade to get into. A person may recruit their friends and relatives, or classmates and coworkers. It almost looks as if a cottage industry in drug smuggling is developing along the border.
The government would have you think that Americans are just victims in the drug trade, rather than perpetrators, especially people like Todd Britton-Harr. He was one of the 31,000 Americans arrested for smuggling drugs in 2010. Britton-Harr, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was caught at a Border Patrol checkpoint in south Texas hauling a trailer with 1,100 pounds of marijuana.
Oil boom bringing a drug boom?
Concealing drugs inside industrial vehicles and equipment is becoming more and more frequent with oil field equipment becoming the method of choice for transporting illegal cargoes.
The oil and gas industry in South Texas is booming since the development of the Eagle Ford Shale formation in 2011. Along with the boom in oil and gas discoveries has been the boom in drug development.
Since the development of the Eagle Ford Oil and Gas Shale formations in South Texas, thirteen counties in the area have been crisscrossed with oil field equipment. Many of these vehicles are carrying more than “liquid gold.”
In September 2012, at the Dimmit-Webb, Texas, county line, Border Patrol Agents near Laredo discovered an abandoned 2012 Ford F-250 work truck. The agents inspected the vehicle and located a hidden compartment that held 41 bundles of marijuana weighing a total of 801.3 pounds. The vehicle and contraband were turned over to ICE.
Reports are coming in indicating that oilfield and utility type trucks in South Texas are being outfitted with compartments for smuggling narcotics. These trucks are then driven during early morning (between 4 a.m.-6 a.m.) or late afternoon (4 p.m.-6 p.m.) en route to San Antonio via FM-2644. The drug-laden vehicles are blending in with legitimate oilfield traffic traveling along the same highway at those times.
In August 2012, United States Border Patrol Agents (USBP) observed a white 1999 Ford F-250 on FM-2644, west of Carrizo Springs. The vehicle was outfitted with a flat bed, tool boxes, and a generator. The agents also noticed welded beads on the bed of the truck as well as on the tool boxes. The search conducted by the (USBP) K-9 unit revealed a false compartment in the bed of the truck, with 43 bundles (over 500 pounds) of marijuana. The driver was arrested and turned over to the DEA, along with the marijuana and the vehicle.
In yet another incident, USBP agents near Laredo recovered $1,282 and over 100 bundles of marijuana, during a routine traffic stop. The driver of the truck, who was subsequently arrested, was dressed in oilfield worker’s clothing.
Trucks are not the only thing used to smuggle drugs across the border. Over 1,610 pounds of marijuana were concealed inside a sandblasting tank on a flatbed trailer, with the drugs hidden under a trap door in the tank. These tanks are used as a sandblasting platform in oil fields to maintain production equipment.
As for why Americans are turning to drug smuggling (the share of U.S. citizens is increasing, according to the report) the authors believe it’s due to a combination of factors. There’s the Walter White scenario from the television show “Breaking Bad”: being driven into the illicit drug trade by economic desperation. But few have the fictional White’s experience and street smarts, and are often caught the same day or week they’re hired.
Drug and alien smugglers are innovative and will continually look for new ways to hide and move their contraband. With the development of the Eagle Ford shale hydrocarbon reserves in the South Texas area, oil and gas equipment and personnel have become more prevalent in border counties and highways leading away from the border, ultimately becoming “everyday traffic.”
Also, with ranches opening roads as right of ways to oil and gas rigs, many trucks travel freely through ranch lands completely avoiding highways.
What is the government doing about it? Apparently, it has decided to “do more, with less.”
Starting on Sunday, April 7, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will cut overtime hours to an estimated 3,000-4,000 border patrol agents.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has said that it can make these cuts because illegal border crossings have been at “historic lows.”
Even so, the prospect of further cuts at the border is raising the specter of the agency losing thousands of agents. Since many of the agents have to drive two to three hours to get to the areas they patrol, some agents will be forced to leave their post after pulling only a five to six-hour shift in order to avoid overtime.
Steve Veloz, a Border Patrol agent based in Eagle Pass said that many of the agents in the South Texas area are considering leaving for more stable employment.
“[The cuts are] a slap in the face to them,” said Veloz. “I have heard a lot of them say, ‘God, I should just go home. I can get paid the same at home, where I’m not away from my family.’”
The Laredo chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing U.S. Border Patrol staff, recently had a meeting that featured U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who told the crowd he is working to keep the sequestration cuts on Border Patrol to a minimum.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is also fighting to hold off the cutbacks. Cornyn who is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security has expressed “outrage” over Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano’s response to sequestration – targeting CBP law enforcement personnel for cuts instead of non-security personnel for furloughs.
He said the furloughs “call into question the department’s commitment to its core missions and raise serious concerns about the judgment of DHS leadership.”
Cornyn went on to say that there is only one reason for Napolitano to propose these cuts and that is to use fear to make a political point.
Napolitano’s actions to cut back on border security and retain non-essential personnel seem especially strange since she had previously claimed that America would be less safe due to the sequester.
The cut in hours patrolling the border has local residents scared as well.
Carla Escobar lives just a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. In a recent interview, Escobar told an El Paso television station that she is afraid of how the budget cuts could affect her safety.
“It’s a concern especially with the drug cartels,” said Escobar, “It just leaves a lot of uncertainty for the people of El Paso and New Mexico.”
Omar Ibarra is concerned that there will be times when the border remains unprotected. “There could be more illegal drugs coming in to El Paso, and illegals that might commit more crimes,” said the El Paso resident.
It does not seem as if the administrators of the Border Patrol agency are too concerned about either the drug traffic or illegal immigrants. In recent postings on their website such as, “Questions and Responses Regarding the Impact of Sequestration on Imports,” the CPB answered a myriad of questions about the effect of sequestration, the interesting thing is all of the questions and responses involved commerce. Issues such as wait times at the border and cargo release times filled the page rather than drugs and illegal aliens.
And the drugs, they just keep coming.
New battle lines in the drug war
On Saturday, March 30, the bodies of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were found in their home, raising fears that it is too late to guard the border against the drug trade. The Mexican cartels are already in the United States.
One witness at the scene described it as “awful.” “There are shell casings everywhere,” the official said. “This is unprecedented. This is unbelievable. This is huge.”
One county attorney said recent events reminded him of violence often seen in Mexico.
And the drugs keep coming, in ever more creative and dangerous ways. While more oil field service vehicles are being targeted for insertion, the cartels are shifting their tactics. Drugs are now being transported in containers of hazardous materials, many times hidden in oil field waste.
Drugs packed in hazardous waste are more difficult to detect by K-9 unit and Border Patrol agents aren’t trained to detect drugs hidden in toxic material. Also, for safety and chain of custody reasons, the drugs have to be removed and decontaminated onsite. This is generally something for which the CBP agents have no training.
“Past history has shown that contraband may be hidden in conveyances transporting materials considered hazardous waste,”a recent statement stated. “BP agents do not have the expertise or training to safely extract the contraband and decontaminate it for future use as evidence in legal proceeding. The contraband has to be extracted and decontaminated onsite under the supervision of CBP agents who will take control of all the contraband once the extraction and decontamination process is completed.”
To face this new threat, the CBP has requested hazmat (hazardous material) units to augment their searches and seizures. A request that will probably go unanswered due to sequestration.