featured image 18 Border officials seize a lot of fentanyl but say it's a complicated problem to solve

Customs and Border Protection is asking for more resources for the front lines.

As tens of thousands of Americans continue to die each year from synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl, federal officials say the illicit narcotics trade remains a critical problem at the intersection of public health, crime and border politics.

While immigration policy and fentanyl trafficking are distinct, the two issues often overlap because a significant share of drugs are coming through legal crossings in the hands of U.S. citizens — at the same time that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says it continues to operate under a resource strain amid historically high levels of illegal migration.

This week, because of an influx of migrants, CBP was forced to shut down and limit traffic at border crossings in Texas and Arizona as part of larger personnel adjustments along the southwest border.

“This is how we manage our operations,” the acting CBP commissioner, Troy Miller, told ABC News in an interview. “We surged to those locations — we have to — for the safety and security of our officers, our agents, the migrants we encounter and, frankly, to maximize the enforcement efforts that we have underway.”

The closures and slowdowns illustrate the consistently dynamic work of CBP as it balances immigration enforcement while working to screen incoming goods and seize illegal fentanyl.

“We have a responsibility to identify bad actors carrying in our narcotics and the like into our country, and like any other law enforcement agency, as operations dictate, we’re going to we’re going to shift resources into those into those areas and we’re going to continue to do both jobs,” Miller said. “But certainly, it’s very challenging. It’s very challenging for the men and women of CBP.”

US President Joe Biden during a meeting to accelerate efforts to counter the flow of fentanyl into the United States in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Nov. 21, 2023. Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Trafficking of fentanyl appears to largely occur at the southwest border, where 90% of the drug seized by CBP is found. Over the past year, the agency seized 850% more fentanyl compared to 2019 and seized nearly twice as much fentanyl in fiscal year 2023 compared to the previous year, according to data from the agency.

As the country keeps grappling with what federal health officials call an overdose epidemic, stopping fentanyl has become a political issue as well.

Republicans have repeatedly hammered away at the flow of the drug into the U.S., attempting to tie it to the historically high levels of migration seen across the country, though allies of the White House note that the high volume of fentanyl seizures shows much of the drug is already being caught.

The Biden administration, responding to allegations that it is mismanaging the border, has been asking Congress for $14 billion in border security and migration management funding. That money would pay for an additional 1,000 CBP officers, mostly in the southwest.

“When we surge resources to the southwest border, we’re not only talking about officers for interdiction, we’re talking about intel analysts, we’re talking about working with our state, local partners, our federal partners,” Miller said.

Republicans have pushed back, arguing that the White House should also curb legal avenues for further migration.

“If the White House wants more funding, it needs to compromise with us,” Republican House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green said in a statement.

‘A societal issue’

Further complicating efforts to catch all of the fentanyl is the agency’s broader mission to screen the numerous legal goods that flow into the U.S. every hour of the day. CBP is tasked with processing $4 trillion in trade annually and roughly a million travelers per day.

The global expansion of online commerce has presented new challenges for CBP’s small package inspection work. Miller said trade laws need to be updated so CBP has more insight into the supply chains that produce U.S. consumer imports.

“Where is that small package coming from? Who’s it going to? And what’s actually in that package?” he said.

“That information is needed,” he said, “so we can do real risk assessment on those small packages coming into the country.”

Miller said CBP first started seizing fentanyl sent through the mail in 2016 and the agency took a number of steps to secure international shipments. Deploying field chemists to test suspicious packages, providing the anti-overdose treatment Narcan to officers who might be exposed and training K-9 units to detect fentanyl for the first time were some of the early moves made by the agency that are still used today.

While the flow of fentanyl has shifted away from direct shipments, the importation of precursor chemicals from China remains a chief focus of diplomatic efforts, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Fentanyl drug with warning label. STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images.

Authorities say Mexican drug labs are responsible for taking Chinese precursor chemicals and turning them into deadly fentanyl product. Fake pills resembling real prescription drugs like oxycodone are part of the scourge that has made its way into “every community,” as one federal official put it.

But cooperation between the U.S. and China on drug control has been “severely strained” going back to the final days of the Trump administration in 2020, the CRS wrote in September.

The White House says it has made progress in putting cooperation with China back on track. Last month, President Joe Biden announced new diplomatic efforts aimed at getting China to take action against criminal pharmaceutical companies that produce fentanyl ingredients, though he also noted that such moves will need to be verified.

Fentanyl overdoses have become a sweeping problem in the country and, Miller said, a sweeping solution is needed.

“I’ve said I’ve said it 100 times: We can’t interdict our way out of this,” he said, referring to authorities simply seizing the drug off the street. “This is something that’s a societal issue that we all need to tackle together.”
Source and Read More: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/border-officials-seizing-lot-fentanyl-complicated-problem-solve/story?id=105255151

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