Fentanyl Smuggling Surges at Border

Seizures have nearly doubled 2020 numbers

A DEA agent checks pills containing fentanyl (Getty Images)
September 15, 2021

Fentanyl seizures in 2021 have nearly doubled 2020 numbers, according to records quietly released by Customs and Border Protection.

The "Drug Seizure Statistics" tool run by the agency disclosed on Monday that agents already seized 9,337 pounds of fentanyl by the end of July, a 94 percent increase from the 4,791 pounds seized in the entirety of 2020. In 2019, the agency seized just 2,804 pounds. CBP did not publicly announce the updated statistics.

According to CBP's data, the vast majority of fentanyl seizures—1,110—have taken place at the southwest border, highlighting how the migrant crisis creates opportunities for cartels and other criminal organizations as law enforcement finds its resources strained. The influx of fentanyl also comes at a time when overdoses from the drug are set to break all-time records this year.

In 2020, more than 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses—a 29 percent increase from the previous year and the biggest one-year jump since 2016. President Joe Biden declared the week of Aug. 29 as "Overdose Awareness Week," pledging a "strong response ... to reduce the supply of illicit drugs." Since 1991, 841,000 Americans have died from a drug overdose, with 70 percent of those deaths caused by opioids.

Experts say that just two milligrams of fentanyl can cause a lethal overdose to people with no tolerance for the drug, meaning the amount of the drug seized by CBP through July could potentially kill two billion people. A senior CBP official told the Washington Free Beacon that an increase in drugs across the southern border comes as no surprise, citing intelligence that concluded cartel operations increase during times of migrant surges.

July saw the most migrants encounters at the southern border in 21 years at 212,000, beating a record previously held by the month of June. According to Fox News, the month of August saw 208,887 encounters, a slight dip but 317 percent higher than the number of encounters in August 2020.

States at the epicenter of the opioid crisis are already challenging the Biden administration's border policies. West Virginia filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Aug. 19 over his decision to end the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols, which forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico before their court dates in the United States. Proponents of the policy say it acts as a deterrent for migrants and allows law enforcement agencies to focus their resources on criminals.

In its lawsuit, West Virginia cited the "devastating deadly flood of fentanyl across the Southwest border" as a consequence of that decision.

"By its consequences burdening and distracting the Border Patrol, the termination of the MPP decreases the security of the border against fentanyl trafficking between ports of entry, leading directly to both increased numbers of smuggling attempts and increased rates of success in evading Border Patrol," the lawsuit stated.

The Supreme Court ordered the Biden administration to reinstate MPP on Aug. 24, saying the government improperly justified its rationale for ending the program on June 1. Although the White House said it would continue to look for ways to repeal MPP, the Free Beacon reported that senior DHS officials had been working on instituting a modified version of the policy before the Supreme Court's decision.