As illegal immigration surges, so do drug trade, human trafficking
'Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime,' says Mark Morgan, former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
The surge in the number of migrants trying to cross the southern border and enter the U.S. illegally is facilitating the flow of drugs and human trafficking into the country, with both the American people and the migrants themselves suffering as a result, according to experts and former officials who spoke to Just the News.
"The higher the flow of illegal immigration, the more inability we have to secure the border, and the more operational control we hand over to the cartels," said Mark Morgan, former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). "When illegal immigration is up, the more Border Patrol is relegated to a travel agency for illegal immigrants."
Morgan said that when an overwhelming number of illegals are entering the country, large numbers of border agents — about half the agents on duty at any given time — have to be pulled off the line to process, care for and transfer them, leaving huge gaps for cartels and smugglers to exploit.
"How in the hell did border security become a right or left thing, not an American thing?" Morgan said. "Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime."
His comments came after the CBP on Wednesday released its latest data showing there were a staggering 239,416 encounters with migrants attempting to enter the country illegally last month, marking a new record and the fourth consecutive monthly rise.
Of those encounters, 222,656 illegally crossed the southern border and were apprehended by Border Patrol. Meanwhile, 16,760 were found not to have the proper documents at ports of entry, though the majority were still released into the U.S.
Since President Biden entered office, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who've crossed the southern border illegally. The figure reached about 2.4 million illegal border crossings from May 2021 to last month.
By comparison, there were just over 626,000 such crossings from January 2020 to January 2021, former President Trump's last year in office.
The drastic difference in numbers has real-world consequences, especially when it comes to drugs.
Cartels in Mexico produce everything from marijuana to fentanyl and work with migrant smugglers to get the drugs into the U.S., charging the smugglers a kind of tax in order to pass through cartel-controlled territory in northern Mexico on the way to the United States, said Andrew Arthur, resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.
"These payments provide more funding for the cartels to produce more and move their drugs into the U.S.," said Arthur.
"They can also move drugs into the U.S. with otherwise legal traffic, although the CBP has a number of tools to find drugs. The other way to move drugs is between the ports of entry," where the security gaps caused by border agents being pulled off the line really come into play.
More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. during the 12-month period ending April 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a record high, up 28.5% from the same period a year earlier. More than three-quarters of the deaths were associated with opioids including fentanyl.
"If the cartel were to drop a bomb on a city and kill 100,000 people, which is what the cartels have done with this poison … what would we do as a country?" Pinal County, Ariz. Sheriff Mark Lamb said last month on the "Just the News, Not Noise" television show. "We went to war for 20 years over what happened on 9/11. And now we're completely turning a blind eye to this. Our government, the mainstream media -- they refuse to talk about it. They want to talk about anything and everything but protecting our borders."
Despite overdoses being up, drug seizures are down, as measured by weight seized, from where they've been on average for the last few years.
The reason for the disconnect between drug seizures and overdoses is border agents have too many duties due to the sheer volume of migrants coming in, said Arthur.
"The stat that's truly relevant is how much drugs have not been seized — how much is getting through. The Biden administration has no idea," said Morgan, who explained cartels use illegal immigrants as distractions to draw border agents away in order to sneak their drugs into the U.S. He said migrants will also sometimes agree to transport drugs themselves to pay off the cost they owe for being smuggled.
A similar dynamic exists with criminals and potential terrorists entering the country, said Morgan.
Since October 2020, more than 800,000 illegal immigrants are known to have gotten past agents.
In fiscal year 2022, there have been 50 arrests of migrants on the Terrorist Screening Database at the southern border by Border Patrol between ports of entry, a significant increase from prior years.
"The next terrorist attack could already be here," said Morgan. "That's not being hyperbolic."
Beyond drugs, another area where the human cost of an unsecure border and rampant illegal immigration is evident is human trafficking.
"A critical part of the humanitarian catastrophe at the border is that many migrants are vulnerable to human trafficking, including children and adolescents," said Callista Gingrich, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican in the Trump administration and has been active in efforts to combat human trafficking.
"U.S. border control agencies have an important role in preventing human trafficking in addition to preventing illegal crossings and human smuggling. They need to be equipped and empowered to do their jobs," said Gingrich.
"Weak border policies subject vulnerable people to violence and abuse, while predatory traffickers and smugglers financially profit from the exploitation of human beings."
According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, 57,700 people were victims of human trafficking in the U.S. at the time, many of them immigrant women forced into either slave labor or sexual slavery. Some estimates put the figure much higher.
Teresa Ulloa Ziaurriz, director of the Latin American branch of the Coalition Against Trafficking International, has estimated that 60% of Latin American children who set out to cross the border alone or with smugglers have been caught by the cartels and are being abused in child pornography or drug trafficking.
There's a distinction between migrants who are smuggled and those who are trafficked. The former is generally voluntary, at least initially, and the former is by definition being forced against one's will. However, the distinction is often blurred, according to experts, as money owed to smugglers can be used to force someone into debt bondage.
Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested an alleged human smuggler who was in the U.S. illegally on suspicion of holding a migrant woman hostage. The man in custody had allegedly extorted the woman's family and made her remove her clothes for photographs.
In February, Lamb told "Just the News, Not Noise" about a woman whom his office found with a bag of pills. When asked what the pills were, she responded they were morning-after pills because she knew she'd get raped multiple times along the journey of crossing the border.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee recently explained that Border Patrol agents try to protect not only the border but also "the people illegally trying to cross it."
With Border Patrol overwhelmed, however, that job becomes even more difficult.
"With respect to sex work, we know it's happening, but the problem is there's so little control of the border that we can't even get a grip of how bad the problem is," said Arthur. "It's a field day for human traffickers. We need to get the border under significantly more control."
Arthur noted that the Biden administration has not been forthcoming with information about criminal migrants, including traffickers.
"There's significant lack of transparency," he said. "Under Trump, they'd tell us what's going on."
For Morgan, the trafficking situation boils down to a simple equation.
"When you increase the flow of illegal smuggling, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know trafficking goes up. That's common sense," he said. "Law enforcement went from being reactive to being preventative with 9/11. We need to do same thing with trafficking. How do you combat it? Secure the border and reduce the flow of illegal immigration."
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