Beside a table piled high with bags of white powder, representatives from Customs and Border Protection on Thursday announced the largest seizure of fentanyl in the department’s history.

Late last month, a 26-year-old Mexican national driving a trailer full of cucumbers was stopped as he tried to enter the United States at a border checkpoint near Nogales, Ariz. The trailer contained a false bottom; beneath it, hundreds of pounds of both fentanyl and meth with a street value of more than $4.5 million, authorities said. The drugs were seized, and the driver arrested and charged with two federal charges.

All in all, a success story for the department. Notice the details, though: The drugs were hidden in a vehicle passing through a border checkpoint, not driving wildly through barren desert, thanks to the lack of a wall on the border.

AD
AD

A few hours after the CBP announcement, President Trump told reporters from the New York Times the sort of apprehension his Department of Homeland Security had just celebrated did not really exist.

“[U]nlike what the Democrats say, they don’t, you don’t bring trucks of drugs through the checkpoints,” Trump told the Times. “You bring trucks of drugs by making a right 20 miles, and a left into the country. They’re not bringing, you know, they bring massive amounts of drugs, and they do it because there’s no barrier, there’s no hardened wall that you can’t knock down with your breath.”

He has made this assertion before, that drug smugglers simply drive across empty desert in what he at one point described as “unbelievable vehicles” that are “stronger, bigger and faster vehicles than our police have and than ICE has, and the Border Patrol have.” (We reviewed the vehicles that had been seized at the southern border for smuggling; most were sedans or crossovers.)

AD
AD

Incidents of smugglers avoiding checkpoints do occur. In December, near an immigration checkpoint in Arizona — that is, at a location within the United States — CBP officers spotted a vehicle that appeared to be attempting to avoid the stop. They pursued; the vehicle allegedly held 65 pounds of meth, and the driver was arrested. The event spawned two separate news releases, neither of which described the vehicle as unusual in any way.

Trump’s assertion that most of the drugs that enter the United States come in vehicles that speed across unblocked border areas is undercut by testimony from members of his own administration. We have noted before that various agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security have reported — since Trump took office — most drugs that cross the border come through existing ports of entry. The best example of such testimony probably comes from Trump’s former chief of staff John F. Kelly, who testified before Congress while still Homeland Security secretary in 2017.

“Another metric would be the amount of — and it mostly comes through ports of entry, which is another discussion that we can certainly have here, but the amount of drugs that come through,” Kelly said.

AD
AD

Shortly after Trump was inaugurated, the CBP’s Paul A. Beeson offered similar testimony.

“The Southwest land border POEs are the major points of entry for illegal drugs, where smugglers use a wide variety of tactics and techniques for concealing drugs,” Beeson said, referring to ports of entry.

That is bolstered by the CBP’s own news releases. We reviewed every news release touting a drug seizure since Nov. 1, 2018. Of the 120 seizures included in those releases, 82 occurred at ports of entry. Another 14 occurred at or near immigration checkpoints like the one near Yuma listed above.

The rest, 24 of them, happened between ports of entry. Almost all of those shared similar characteristics: They were seizures of marijuana by agents in the CBP’s Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas. Usually, the seizure involved agents spotting people carrying bundles of marijuana across the river into the United States who then dropped the packages and fled south upon being confronted.

AD
AD

There was one noteworthy exception. On Dec. 6, agents spotted an ultralight aircraft flying across the border into California. They watched as it descended in altitude, later finding it had dropped 129 pounds of meth near Calexico. The drugs were seized.

Most of the seizures including in the CBP’s releases were similar in nature to the Nogales and Yuma stops: A vehicle pulled over for inspection that was found to have drugs either hidden in the vehicle or, in some cases, sitting within view. Often, the drugs were detected by drug-sniffing dogs.

Harder drugs like cocaine, heroin and fentanyl were generally captured in smaller amounts than marijuana. In total, more than 25,000 pounds of drugs, mostly marijuana, were seized at ports of entry. About 7,600 pounds — nearly all of it marijuana — were seized between ports of entry. About 400 pounds of drugs, mostly not marijuana, was seized at checkpoints. (These data exclude bulk reports of seizures without identified individual dates.)

AD
AD

More interesting, the plurality of those who were arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle drugs into the United States were identified either explicitly as U.S. citizens or identified as residents of the United States. Such individuals made up 41 of the 79 incidents in which a suspect’s identity was known. Another 31 were identified as Mexican nationals. A few, like the man stopped near the Yuma immigration checkpoint, were legal permanent U.S. residents. None of those identified as having being arrested for attempting to smuggle drugs was described as having originated from any country other than the United States or Mexico.

That smugglers would use American citizens to drive vehicles with hidden drug packages across the border makes intuitive sense. Why build a giant Mad-Max-mobile to go bounding over sand dunes in the middle of nowhere when there are decent odds you can get through a checkpoint near a major U.S. city simply by driving a regular car down a regular road? In fact, as USA Today reported in 2017, agents on the border have about 40 seconds to spot signs of smuggling before letting cars progress into the United States.

The paper also noted that existing fencing had the desired effect of preventing the scenarios Trump proposes. The fencing around existing ports of entry has the effect of pushing smugglers toward the ports of entry, where they can more easily be detected.

AD
AD

Below, the 120 incidents documented in the CBP’s news releases. These reports alone, from an agency under Trump’s management, indicate that the president’s disparagement of the idea that smugglers try to sneak meth and heroin into the country using vehicles at ports of entry is incorrect.

Seizures identified in CBP news releases since Nov. 1, 2018

• Nov. 1, 2018. Port of entry near Pharr International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 24 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 2, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 118 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 3, 2018. Port of entry near Lukeville, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 28 pounds of meth.

AD

• Nov. 4, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect attempted to smuggle 50 pounds of meth.

AD

• Nov. 5, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 315 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 5, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 260 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 5, 2018. Port of entry near Calexico East, Calif. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 50 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 6, 2018. Port of entry near Hidalgo International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 14 pounds of heroin.

• Nov. 6, 2018. Port of entry near El Paso. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 1.5 pounds of meth.

AD

• Nov. 6, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 69 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 7, 2018. Port of entry near Lukeville, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 190 pounds of meth.

AD

• Nov. 7, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Yuma, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 30 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 8, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande City, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 225 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 8, 2018. Port of entry near Pharr International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 24 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 9, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 0.5 pound of heroin.

• Nov. 9, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 3 pounds of heroin.

• Nov. 9, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Yuma, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 62 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 10, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 1.5 pounds of fentanyl.

• Nov. 10, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 17 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 10, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 99 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 10, 2018. Between ports of entry near Roma, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 95 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 10, 2018. Port of entry near Hidalgo International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 18 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 11, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 40 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 11, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Kingsville, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 3 pounds of marijuana, heroin.

• Nov. 13, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 2 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 14, 2018. Port of entry near Anzaldus-Reynosa International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 156 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 66 pounds of heroin, meth.

• Nov. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Hidalgo International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 36 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 26 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 39 pounds of heroin, meth.

• Nov. 18, 2018. Port of entry near Hidalgo, Texas. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 12 pounds of meth, cocaine.

• Nov. 18, 2018. Port of entry near Hidalgo International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 13 pounds of meth, cocaine.

• Nov. 18, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 19 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 19, 2018. Port of entry near Pharr International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 55 pounds of meth, cocaine.

• Nov. 20, 2018. Port of entry near Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 21 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 22, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 20 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 23, 2018. Port of entry near Lukeville, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 112 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 23, 2018. Port of entry near Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 62 pounds of cocaine.

• Nov. 23, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 100 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 23, 2018. Between ports of entry near Donna, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 330 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 24, 2018. Port of entry near San Diego. Suspect is a Multiple national who attempted to smuggle 625 pounds of various.

• Nov. 24, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a Multiple national who attempted to smuggle 182 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 24, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 82 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 24, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande City, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 235 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 26, 2018. Port of entry near Lukeville, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 1 pound of meth.

• Nov. 27, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 18 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 27, 2018. Port of entry near Calexico East, Calif. Suspect is a legal permanent U.S. resident who attempted to smuggle 65 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 27, 2018. Port of entry near San Ysidro, Calif. Suspect is a legal permanent U.S. resident who attempted to smuggle 170 pounds of meth.

• Nov. 27, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande City, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 230 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 27, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande City, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 300 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 27, 2018. Between ports of entry near Garceno, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 465 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 28, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 54 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 28, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 2,885 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 28, 2018. Between ports of entry near La Grulla, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 235 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 28, 2018. Between ports of entry near Fort Brown, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 540 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 29, 2018. Port of entry near Douglas, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 250 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 29, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 253 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 30, 2018. Port of entry near Naco, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 75 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 30, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 4,239 pounds of marijuana.

• Nov. 30, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 36 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 1, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 4,275 pounds of marijuana, meth.

• Dec. 1, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande City, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 230 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 1, 2018. Between ports of entry near Mission, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 770 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 3, 2018. Port of entry near Calexico, Calif. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 51 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 5, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 92.25 pounds of meth, heroin, fentanyl.

• Dec. 5, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 129 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 5, 2018. Port of entry near Hidalgo International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 24 pounds of cocaine.

• Dec. 5, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande Valley, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 722 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 5, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Yuma, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 59 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 5, 2018. Port of entry near Tucson. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 118 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 6, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 23 pounds of cocaine.

• Dec. 6, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 66 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 6, 2018. Port of entry near Raul Hector Castro, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 270 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 6, 2018. Between ports of entry near Brownsville, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 80 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 6, 2018. Between ports of entry near Brownsville, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 100 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 6, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 60 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 7, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Yuma, Ariz. Suspect is a legal permanent U.S. resident who attempted to smuggle 65 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 7, 2018. Between ports of entry near Mission, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 945 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 7, 2018. Between ports of entry near Roma, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 160 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 7, 2018. Port of entry near Otay Mesa, Calif. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 1,000 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 8, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Salton City, Calif. Suspect attempted to smuggle 4 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 8, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Salton City, Calif. Suspect attempted to smuggle 22 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 8, 2018. Port of entry near Laredo, Tex. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 49 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 9, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Salton City, Calif. Suspect attempted to smuggle 57 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 9, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Salton City, Calif. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 3 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 10, 2018. Port of entry near Lukeville, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 208 pounds of heroin, meth.

• Dec. 10, 2018. Port of entry near Laredo, Tex. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 37 pounds of cocaine.

• Dec. 10, 2018. Port of entry near Pharr International Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 367 pounds of meth, cocaine, heroin.

• Dec. 11, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 85 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 11, 2018. Between ports of entry near Brownsville, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 370 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 12, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Yuma, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 2 pounds of heroin.

• Dec. 12, 2018. Port of entry near Veterans International Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 3,919 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 13, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 1 pound of heroin.

• Dec. 13, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 13 pounds of cocaine.

• Dec. 13, 2018. Port of entry near Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, Texas. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 94 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 14, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a legal permanent U.S. resident who attempted to smuggle 5 pounds of cocaine.

• Dec. 14, 2018. Port of entry near World Trade Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 210 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 14, 2018. Port of entry near Laredo, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 39 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 15, 2018. Between ports of entry near Los Ebanos, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 320 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 15, 2018. Port of entry near Gateway to the Americas Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 38 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 11 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 1 pound of heroin.

• Dec. 16, 2018. Port of entry near Eagle Pass, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 12.5 pounds of cocaine.

• Dec. 16, 2018. Immigration checkpoint near Falfurrias, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle marijuana.

• Dec. 16, 2018. Between ports of entry near Calaboz, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 94 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 16, 2018. Between ports of entry near Calexico, Calif. Suspect attempted to smuggle 129 pounds of meth.

• Dec. 17, 2018. Between ports of entry near Bluetown, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 190 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 18, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a Multiple national who attempted to smuggle heroin.

• Dec. 18, 2018. Port of entry near Dennis DeConcini Crossing, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 0.5 pound of heroin.

• Dec. 18, 2018. Between ports of entry near Brownsville, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 360 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 19, 2018. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 0.5 pound of meth.

• Dec. 19, 2018. Port of entry near Roma International Bridge, Texas. Suspect attempted to smuggle 2,149 pounds of marijuana.

• Dec. 19, 2018. Between ports of entry near Rio Grande City, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 230 pounds of marijuana.

(Gap due to the shutdown.)

• Jan. 25, 2019. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 28 pounds of meth.

• Jan. 25, 2019. Port of entry near Presidio, Tex. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 216 pounds of marijuana.

• Jan. 26, 2019. Port of entry near Nogales, Ariz. Suspect is a Mexican national who attempted to smuggle 649 pounds of fentanyl, meth.

• Jan. 26, 2019. Port of entry near Laredo, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 28 pounds of heroin.

• Jan. 27, 2019. Port of entry near San Luis, Ariz. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 62 pounds of meth.

• Jan. 27, 2019. Immigration checkpoint near Salton City, Calif. Suspect is a U.S. national who attempted to smuggle 75 pounds of meth.

• Jan. 27, 2019. Between ports of entry near Edinburg, Tex. Suspect attempted to smuggle 230 pounds of marijuana.