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Trump claims that you can’t smuggle drugs at ports of entry, which would likely surprise Border Patrol

An image shared by the Border Patrol with Congress during a 2017 hearing. (Philip Bump/(Customs and Border Patrol))
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During his Friday announcement that he would declare a national emergency to build a wall on the border with Mexico, President Trump covered a wide range of topics, many related to immigration.

One focus of his remarks was the need for a wall on the border, a case he has been making repeatedly since the government shutdown began in December. Trump’s rhetoric follows a consistent pattern: Talk about objectively bad things — drug overdoses, human trafficking — and then claiming that a wall is necessary to prevent those things from happening.

Here was what he said about those things on Friday and about ports of entry, designated checkpoints on the border where people can enter the U.S. legally.

“A big majority of the big drugs, the big drug loads don’t go through ports of entry,” Trump said. “They can’t go through ports of entry. You can’t take big loads because you have people. We have some very capable people, the Border Patrol, law enforcement, looking.”

“You can’t take human traffick — women and girls, you can’t them through ports of entry, you can’t have them tied up in the back seat of a car or a truck or a van,” he continued. Border agents “open the door. They look. They can’t see three women with tape on their mouth or three women whose hands are tied? They go through areas where you have no wall."

“Everybody knows that,” he concluded, singling out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Nancy knows it. Chuck knows it. They all know it. It’s all a big lie. It’s a big con game.”

This is, to put it bluntly, nonsense.

First of all, we know that drugs flow through ports of entry because Trump’s own administration has repeatedly said they do. His former chief of staff John F. Kelly testified before Congress in 2017, when he was the Homeland Security director, saying that most drugs come through ports of entry. Paul A. Beeson of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said points of entry are “the major points of entry for illegal drugs” in testimony that same year. The Drug Enforcement Administration released a report indicating that only a “small percentage” of heroin that crossed the border was seized between ports of entry.

This is by design. Many of the existing barriers on the border are meant to funnel smugglers through ports of entry.

“Regardless of the number of drug dogs and technology and intelligence, the potential of smuggling the drugs in through a port of entry is far greater,” Gil Kerlikowske, who led CBP under former president Barack Obama, told USA Today. But also: “Your ability to be captured coming across between a port of entry is much greater.”

You need only give a cursory look at CBP news releases, touting their interdictions, to see how ridiculous it is to claim that you can’t smuggle large amounts of drugs through ports of entry.

In his testimony, Beeson offered some photos of how that smuggling works, including the image of watermelons above. Here’s another from his testimony, showing drugs hidden in a vehicle.

These are not exceptions! Here are other attempts to hide drugs that have been detected by CBP over the past few months and were shown in agency news releases.

Some of those are even at airports, where you would expect smuggling to be particularly tricky. And what’s shown above is just regular-old drug busts for which there are pictures. Earlier this month, CBP announced the biggest seizure of fentanyl in its history: at a checkpoint near Nogales, Ariz., where a Mexican national was caught hiding drugs under a false bottom in a trailer.

While there are efforts to smuggle large bundles of marijuana across the Rio Grande in Texas, the biggest hauls in recent months have been seizures from trucks at ports of entry, including 2,149 pounds of marijuana hidden in a truck that was caught at Roma International Bridge, in Texas. Nearly 4,000 pounds of marijuana were seized from a truck in Brownsville in December.

Vehicles have lots of hiding places — and that’s where migrants often hide to sneak through border checkpoints, as well.

Trump’s tales of women being driven across the border sitting in the back seats of cars are apparently without any basis in reality. After he started making these claims, in fact, a Border Patrol leader sent out an email asking if anyone could back up Trump’s stories. Most people smuggled across the border are seeking to migrate, not being shuttled across against their wills. (In fact, there are very few reports of the latter.)

It’s obviously ridiculous to assume that someone smuggling people across the border would sit them up in the back seat. It’s commonplace, though, for migrants to hide in trucks and cars.

The Laredo Border Patrol sector captures a lot of people at checkpoints, if their news releases are any indication.

In 2006, a migrant was caught at a border checkpoint sewn into the seat of the car. Border agents spotted him anyway.

Anyone who’s been paying attention to Trump’s rhetoric over the years will not be surprised to learn that it’s inaccurate. But rarely is it so obviously and immediately inaccurate as his claims that no one tries to smuggle vast amounts of drugs or people across the border.

When reporters had the chance to ask Trump questions after his announcement, the president was asked where he got his statistics on the border and immigration. “I use many stats,” he said, adding that most were from Homeland Security.

He might want to check with them about his smuggling claims, too. Customs and Border Protection is part of Homeland Security.