Trump wants to beef up border security to ‘knock the hell out of the drug flow’ — but it could still miss most of the smuggling

donald trump border wall prototypes
President Donald Trump reviewing border-wall prototypes in San Diego on March 13.

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump has made border security a key initiative for his administration.
  • He has pushed for additional barriers on the US-Mexico border and for additional enforcement along the frontier.
  • But such methods may still miss the influx of drugs Trump has said he will halt.

Reinforcing the southern US border has been a high priority for President Donald Trump, who has promised since the early days of his campaign to construct additional barriers along the frontier.

This month, apparently in response to an annual migrant caravan heading north through Mexico toward the US border, Trump announced that he would deploy the National Guard for additional security at the frontier — against both the unauthorized movement of people and the illicit transport of illegal drugs into the US.

“We’re putting the National Guard and military at the border,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “And we need a wall. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, we need a wall, and it’ll stop your drug flow. It’ll knock the hell out of the drug flow, and it’ll stop a lot of people that we don’t want in this country from coming into our country.”

A National Guard unit patrolling at the Arizona-Mexico border in Sasabe, Arizona, in 2007.

Ross Franklin/AP

US military personnel at the border will be authorized only to assist the Border Patrol with intelligence and surveillance and won’t have the power to capture migrants. But it’s questionable how much more additional enforcement they could provide.

The 2,000 to 4,000 troops Trump wants to deploy will arrive at a time when there are 30,012 border apprehensions a month, according to the Washington Office on Latin America. When President George W. Bush deployed the National Guard to the border in 2006, there were 128,979 apprehensions at the border a month.

And based on reports from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and other government officials, more troops along the border may miss the mark when it comes to staunching the flow of illicit narcotics into the US.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration said in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment, however, that Mexican transnational criminal organizations transported illicit drugs into the US across its southwest border using varied methods.

“The most common method employed by these TCOs,” it said, “involves transporting illicit drugs through US ports of entry in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.”

The 48 official land crossings that see the passage of millions of people, vehicles, and cargo every day — and are already staffed by law-enforcement and customs officials — also see the vast majority of illegal drug shipments.

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