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Border Patrol agents seized record amounts of fentanyl, meth in FY 2020

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands near at U.S.- Mexico Border on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 in San Ysidro, CA. (K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

The Border Patrol’s San Diego region seized a record amount of fentanyl and methamphetamine smuggled into the country and saw the number of maritime smuggling attempts soar while the number of apprehensions overall of people entering the U.S. illegally fell from the previous year.

The snapshot released by officials this week provides a glimpse of the work of nearly 2,100 uniformed agents from six line stations — Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Brown Field, Campo and Boulevard — and two interior stations in Murrieta and San Clemente.

The agents operate along 60 miles of land border with Mexico and patrol 114 miles of coastal border.

“These results are a direct testament to the heart and soul of our agents,” Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke said in a statement. “In the midst of turmoil, uncertainty and even global pandemic, our agents show up and get the job done.”

According to a highlights list released Monday, the agency’s San Diego sector apprehended 53,282 people who entered the U.S. illegally from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020 — about an 8 percent decline from the previous year.

Not only did agents apprehend fewer people, but the demographics of those arrested changed dramatically from the previous year, with those detained increasingly being single male adults rather than families and children, said agency spokesman Jeffrey Stephenson.

Apprehensions of unaccompanied juveniles — 1,855 — was down by 44 percent from the previous year, while the number of family units encountered dropped nearly 70 percent from the previous year. The agency apprehended 3,335 unaccompanied children and 16,174 family units during fiscal year 2019, Stephenson said.

Border Patrol officials said the shift in those illegally entering the country came after policies and agreements put in place by the Trump administration allowed Border Patrol agents to “expeditiously” return people to their home countries and encouraged potential asylum seekers to claim asylum in the first safe place outside their home country.

Some asylum seekers have filed lawsuits challenging the “Remain in Mexico” program, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols, which require most asylum seekers from Latin American countries to wait in Mexico while their immigration court cases progress in the U.S. One of the complaints filed argues that the program requires asylum seekers to stay in dangerous situations that prevent them from having access to information they need to successfully present their cases to immigration judges.

The mix of drugs coming across the border also changed, Border Patrol officials said.

There was a drop in cocaine and heroin seizures in the San Diego sector over the past fiscal year, but the region saw an 83 percent jump in methamphetamine seizures and a 255 percent increase in fentanyl seizures.

Agents seized 10,828 pounds of marijuana, which is a 230 percent jump from the previous year. Officials believe drug smugglers are moving a lot more meth, fentanyl and marijuana because those products are the most profitable for them.

In the past year, agents saw more people trying to illegally cross the border by water, often cramming many people into pangas, low-slung Mexican fishing boats. Some tried to swim across the border or used personal watercraft.

Three years ago, the agency reported 129 maritime events and 347 arrests. That jumped to 309 maritime events this past year, with 1,273 apprehensions.

Officials say maritime smuggling is especially dangerous because it involves overcrowding people into boats, often with inadequate food and water, no lighting and no safety vests.

On the plus side, there were fewer assaults reported against agents — 54 — which was a 65 percent drop from the previous year. Officials attributed that decrease to new border wall construction, which they say included replacing walls that were dilapidated and ineffectively designed and adding barriers were none previously existed.


(c) 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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