The agency will expand its presence in Mexico, where the drug cartels that dominate the fentanyl trade operate, and deploy more investigators to the U.S.-Mexico border, where the volume of fentanyl pills and powder entering the states -United exploded.
More than 100,000 Americans die each year from illegal drug overdoses, an unprecedented record, putting federal law enforcement under intense public pressure to increase seizures and arrests.
“It’s a major priority for us,” Katrina W. Berger, director of HSI, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview. “The overdose numbers are simply astronomical. »
Fentanyl is responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the United States. The drug’s compact size makes it easy to smuggle and particularly difficult for authorities to arrest.
In Mexico, trafficking organizations illegally manufacture fentanyl in clandestine laboratories and turn it into pills that resemble prescription painkillers. Smugglers typically hire U.S. citizens and green card holders to smuggle packets of pills or powder across the border, hidden in vehicles or in their body cavities.
The latest Customs and Border Protection statistics show that U.S. authorities are on track to seize more than 25,000 pounds of fentanyl in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a five-fold increase since 2020. The price The drug’s cheap price is particularly worrying for American authorities: a single blue tablet containing a potentially lethal dose costs 2 or 3 dollars.
Homeland Security officials say HSI is the federal government’s best tool to fight drugs because the agency has the ability to conduct investigations throughout the illicit supply chain, from ports to laboratories to ‘at the U.S. border and in destination cities where fentanyl is shipped.
The strategic report released Tuesday made no specific mention of the Drug Enforcement Administration, but Berger said the two agencies work closely and have a system to resolve conflicts to avoid producing redundant investigations.
“We have very unique authorities that really allow us to combat fentanyl and illicit opioids – from the international countries where the precursor chemicals arrive, to the transit countries where the pills are often manufactured, to ‘at the border, where they come in, and then into our communities where we work with our partners,’ she said.
HSI officials said the agency would expand its investigative work along the U.S.-Mexico border in anticipation of an increase in fentanyl seizures as CBP officers deploy scanners that could speed up inspections of vehicles.
The majority of fentanyl seizures take place at border crossings in Arizona and the San Diego area, along smuggling corridors dominated by Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel.
HSI officials scored a victory last week when Mexico extradited Ovidio Guzman, the 33-year-old son of Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is serving a life sentence in a secure federal prison. maximum of Colorado. U.S. authorities say that after the elder Guzman’s arrest in 2016 and his extradition in 2017, the younger Guzman and his brothers took over part of their father’s cartel trade, flooding American communities with narcotics.
Some of the new enforcement measures outlined by the agency are more mundane efforts, such as a plan to create a cross-border financial crime center to work with banks, foreign government agencies and digital companies trading cryptocurrencies that can be used to launder drug money. .
HSI officials said they would establish a “Chemical Industry Awareness Project” to help private companies identify questionable shipments, and the agency would strengthen ties with the World Customs Organization to better target chemical precursors intended for trafficking organizations.