With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
- As the Department of Homeland Security announced a new initiative against cross-border fentanyl trafficking, the synthetic opioid appears now to be transiting more through Arizona than through California. Mexico’s production of the drug has become a thorny issue in the bilateral relationship.
- Asylum seekers used the CBP One smartphone app 742 times per day in February to secure appointments at ports of entry, only a fraction of demand. Issues with the app remain so widespread that humanitarian workers in Mexican border cities are spending much of their time offering “tech support.”
- A rally, with strong words from one of San Diego’s congressional representatives, rejected CBP’s plans to build taller segments of border wall through “Friendship Park,” the only federally sanctioned place where friends and relatives on both sides of the fence can meet in person.
Cross-border fentanyl trafficking shifting from California to Arizona
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited the Mariposa port of entry in Nogales, Arizona on March 21 to commemorate the launch of “Operation Blue Lotus,” a “surge operation” targeting cross-border fentanyl smuggling, which is now increasingly happening in Arizona.
With an increase in targeted inspections and recent installation of a “multi-energy portal (non-intrusive inspection technology or NII)” scanner at the Mariposa port, Mayorkas said that the operation had led to 18 drug seizures during its first week (March 13-19), including “over 900 pounds of fentanyl, over 700 pounds of methamphetamines, and over 100 pounds of cocaine.” The “portal” is the first of two that DHS expects to install at the Nogales border crossing.
The 900 pounds of fentanyl seized in a week is equal to about 19 days’ worth of CBP’s Arizona seizures in February, when the agency confiscated 1,300 pounds of the potent opioid.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement administration considers 2 milligrams of fentanyl to be a “potentially lethal dose;” if the 900 pounds seized were one-half pure, then they would be about 100 million such doses. That traffickers ( reportedly dominated by Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels) are willing to risk losing so much product indicates how cheap fentanyl is to produce, and how compact and easy to smuggle it is.
Since October 2022 (the start of the government’s 2023 fiscal year, which is on pace to break past years’ records), 92 percent of U.S. border authorities’ fentanyl seizures have occurred at ports of entry, the official border crossings. The remaining 8 percent was seized by Border Patrol agents between the ports of entry.
Breaking down this seizure data by month and sector shows a significant shift, starting in the summer and fall of 2022. San Diego (blue and brown on the below chart) had long made up the overwhelming majority of border fentanyl seizures. Rather suddenly, Arizona (green, plus the small red bits) is now where more than half of the drug appears to be crossing.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, caused a stir over the past two weeks by repeatedly claiming, without evidence, that Mexico does not produce fentanyl. His own presidential security briefings, most recently on March 7, along with military press releases, document large-scale seizures of the drug. While López Obrador sought to clarify that Mexican organized crime only has pill presses and does not manufacture the drug itself, the Wall Street Journal was able to visit a fentanyl lab in Sinaloa in 2022.
CBP One’s bumpy adoption continues
The Biden administration’s most recent court filing (dated March 16), the result of a Republican states-led lawsuit to preserve Title 42, includes statistics about asylum-seeking migrants who were able to secure appointments at border ports of entry using the “CBP One” smartphone app in February.
20,778 asylum seekers, 742 per day, were able to secure appointments under a system of Title 42 exemptions. That is up from 706 per day in January (21,881 total), when DHS switched—on January 18—from a less-formal Title 42 exemptions system to full use of the CBP One app.
As noted in several past Border Updates, migrants seeking appointments continue to experience problems with the app, including lack of internet access while fleeing, frequent crashes, limited languages (error messages are in English), and a facial capture feature that is widely reported as not responding to people with darker skin. The largest issue, though, continues to be the small number of daily appointments available, a fraction of current levels of protection-seeking migration.Read More