The container on the left, holding 3,200 pounds of cocaine in 60 packages, was seized at the port in New Jersey. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/AP)

As President Trump drummed up support for the billions of dollars he sought for a border wall, he routinely pointed to one crime that he said the edifice would stop: drug smuggling.

"[U]nlike what the Democrats say, they don’t, you don’t bring trucks of drugs through the checkpoints,” he said at the end of January.

Two weeks later, after he announced his intent to declare a national emergency, he brought it up again: “A big majority of the big drugs, the big drug loads don’t go through ports of entry,” he 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.”

But a historically large drug bust announced Monday, nearly 2,000 miles away from the United States-Mexico border, underscored how drug smugglers do look to ports of entry for large drug-running jobs. Despite Trump’s claims, experts say the majority of drugs come into the United States through legal ports of entry — not illegal crossings.


A container with about 3,200 pounds of cocaine was seized in Newark, N.J., last month. (Customs and Border Protection/Reuters)

Customs and Border Protection announced that a task force drawn from six law enforcement organizations had seized 3,200 pounds of cocaine — a street value of $77 million — on Feb. 28, not from some dusty overland trail in Texas, but from a shipping container that arrived at the port in Newark, N.J.

It was the largest cocaine seizure at the port in nearly 25 years. The CBP joined with the U.S. Coast Guard, Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York Police Department and state police for the operation.

“This record breaking seizure draws attention to this new threat and shows law enforcement’s collaborative efforts in seizing illicit drugs before it gets to the streets and into users’ hands,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan said in a statement.

Trump’s assertions about how drugs travel over the border have also been contradicted by members of his own administration, as has been chronicled extensively by The Washington Post’s Philip Bump.

Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly testified in a congressional hearing in 2017 when he was the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security that most of the drugs come through ports of entry. And border security officials have made similar points.

“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,” DHS task force director Paul A. Beeson told Congress that year.

Last month, Bump reviewed news releases about drug seizures from CBP dating back to November. Of the 120 seizures included in the releases, 82 had occurred at a port of entry; 14 occurred at or near immigration checkpoints, Bump reported.

And the trial earlier this year of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán illustrated the sophisticated ways that powerful cartels smuggle drugs into the United States. As The Washington Post’s Edith Honan, Mark Berman and Katie Zezima reported in January:

The billions of dollars’ worth of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana came through elaborate tunnels, including one built under the U.S.-Mexico border that originated below a pool table at an estate, Guzmán’s associates said. Drugs were hidden in trucks and trains, amid gallons of cooking oil and concealed in small cans of hot peppers, rolling through official entry points. Some came into the United States via container ships docking at Pacific ports. All of it was destined for sale in cities and towns across America.

And there are concerns about the amount of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that has been a driving factor in the drug crisis — that has been coming into the country by mail.

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