Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are bringing more illegal drugs into the U.S. than a year ago because the Trump administration’s clamp down on illegal immigration has crimped human smuggling as a revenue source for these groups, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection said on Thursday.
The tactics used by TCOs to bring drugs into the U.S. has also shifted toward cargo shipments and away from vehicular traffic, which is down 65 percent from a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark Morgan told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a hearing to review the evolving challenges facing the agency. The previous tactic entailed smaller loads of drugs using the mass of vehicles crossing the border and it was “fairly effective,” but with the huge reduction in vehicle traffic TCOs have shifted to the “cargo environment because cargo has continued to flow the entire time and so now they are taking a little bit of risk and they’re actually putting larger loads in the cargo.”
Drug smugglers are also using “pedestrians more” to bring the narcotics across on bodies.
There was an 84 percent decline in illegal migration into the U.S. in since May 2019, which is “taking billions of dollars out of the pocket” of the TCOs, Morgan said.
“So, they’re absolutely shifting,” Morgan told the panel. “That’s why I think we’re going to continue to see an increase of drugs coming into this country. I think that’s why we’ve seen an increase of the hard narcotics increase across the board. They’re changing their tactics. They’re going to the sea more. They’re doing what we call ‘mixed-loads’ now, both drugs and smuggling humans as well. And so, they’re really branching out. We’re seeing them use air more, tunnels more. They’re expanding as much as they can.”
In his written testimony, Morgan said that nationwide between April and May seizures of methamphetamine and crystal meth increased 66 percent, cocaine seizures more than doubled, marijuana seizures rose nearly 35 percent, and fentanyl seizures increased 11 percent. He also stated that there may begin to be a shift toward more drug smuggling between the ports of entry.
Morgan told the committee that the U.S. won’t be able to “seize” its way out of its drug problem and will need a whole of government approach to reduce flow and demand.
CBP, beginning soon and extending for the next few years, does plan to acquire substantially more non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems capable of screening cargo and vehicles entering the U.S. at higher rates than ever before. The NII systems are used for detecting illegal drugs, migrants and other contraband inside vehicles and cargo.