Many of the illegal drugs flowing into the United States come by air or sea.
- By Jana WinterJana Winter is an investigative reporter based in Washington DC. She worked previously as a national security reporter at The Intercept and breaking news/investigative reporter for FoxNews.com.
President Donald Trump says his wall at the U.S.-Mexico border will help stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. There’s one problem with the plan: The drugs coming into the U.S. Northeast often arrive by plane, boat, or hidden in vehicles, according to an intelligence report by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A 24-page report prepared by the DEA in May found that drugs coming from Mexico do often enter through the southwestern border, but they do so concealed in vehicles, like tractor-trailers. Moreover, drugs coming from Colombia are more often transported by plane and boat, the reports notes.
Transnational criminal organizations “generally route larger drug shipments destined for the Northeast through the Bahamas and/or South Florida by using a variety of maritime conveyance methods, to include speedboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, yachts, and containerized sea cargo,” the reports reads. “In some cases, Dominican Republic-based traffickers will also transport cocaine into Haiti for subsequent shipment to the United States via the Bahamas and/or South Florida corridor using maritime and air transport.”
Speaking Monday at a joint news conference with Finland’s president, Trump turned his attention back to the wall he has promised to build along the U.S. border with Mexico. “The drugs are pouring in at levels like nobody has ever seen,” Trump said. “We’ll be able to stop them once the wall is up.”
The DEA report does not address the wall but details how drugs enter the country, and many of the examples illustrate that it is not through land routes. “According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport,” the document states.
The report, which focuses heavily on the growth of Dominican trafficking groups, outlines a variety of ways drugs enter the United States, including via couriers carrying cocaine-filled suitcases on commercial flights — sometimes with the help of airline employees — or via mail.
The drugs are often transported by boat from the Bahamas or Venezuela up through Miami. The main hubs for transport include the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
“Due to Puerto Rico’s proximity and status as a U.S. territory, Dominican Republic-based traffickers commonly direct drug shipments to Puerto Rico, where they are partitioned into small units and sent directly to the Northeast, mainly through the U.S. postal system, parcel mail service, and couriers on commercial flights,” the report states.
At the end of the intelligence report, the DEA makes a recommendation, but it doesn’t involve building a wall.
“As key distributors of heroin, controlled prescription pills, and fentanyl—in their various forms—Dominican traffickers play a critical role in fomenting the national opioid epidemic, specifically in the Northeast,” it states.
The report adds that “successful targeting of their networks by U.S. law enforcement would be an essential component to any broad strategy for resolving the current opioid crisis.”
The DEA did not respond to a request for comment about the report.
Trump this week appeared to be emphasizing drug trafficking as a rationale for the border wall, as he is claiming illegal crossings already have declined under his administration. “We’re up to almost 80 percent” reduction in illegal immigration, Trump said at Monday’s press conference. (There are questions, however, about the numbers Trump cited.)
“But you need the wall to do the rest, and you need the wall for the drugs,” Trump added. “The drugs are a tremendous problem. The wall will greatly help with the drug problem.”
Though Trump continues to insist that Mexico will pay for the wall — or at least reimburse the costs of it — the DEA report notes the role of Dominican networks in the Northeast. “Although Mexican traffickers may threaten their dominance in future decades, Dominican traffickers continue to position themselves to remain a significant element of the regional drug trade regardless of their extent of influence or role,” the report reads.
It’s also unclear how a wall would help curb the influx of illegal drugs if the shipments are entering the country by air and sea. Moreover, the Trump administration at one point was weighing budget cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is responsible for drug interdiction at sea, in order to fund the border wall.
The president’s proposed budget request ended up maintaining funding for the service at the same level, but the head of the Coast Guard told reporters in April that even current spending wasn’t enough to interdict all of the drug shipments spotted.
“We have an awareness of over 80 percent of the maritime flow of drugs in the Eastern Pacific where most of it takes place, but also in the Caribbean,” Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said. “But last year, with all of that awareness, there were 580 events that we had at least one level of information on that we just did not have enough ships or enough planes to track those down.”
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