By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune
President Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted that pouring billions of dollars into a wall separating the United States and Mexico will stop the flow of drugs into our country.
It’s time to get real.
Transnational criminal organizations use a variety of methods to smuggle drugs into the United States. A wall won’t stop them.
Tunnels on the border
I was in San Diego recently where I met with officials along the U.S.-Mexico border. We discussed the threats posed by cross-border tunnels and how they’re used to traffic drugs.
Unfortunately this threat isn’t new. Since 1990, 200 tunnels have been discovered along the Southwest border. Seventy-one of these were located in California — nearly half included lights, ventilation and rails to transport narcotics.
Between 2006 and 2012, the United States constructed 580 miles of walls and fencing between the U.S. and Mexico. During that same period, the number of cross-border tunnels spiked, leading to the seizure of 122 tons of marijuana from tunnels discovered in San Diego.
That’s why I drafted legislation to criminalize the financing and construction of cross-border tunnels. Both bills were signed into law.
While we’ve made progress in prosecuting traffickers and closing tunnels, we still face obstacles. For instance, Mexico has not criminalized the construction of cross-border tunnels, and its government doesn’t permanently close them like we do in the United States. Consequently, we’ve seen tunnels being reopened and used to transport drugs into our country.
A wall will have little effect on transnational criminal organizations that can simply dig underneath it.
Drugs enter via legal ports
It’s also important to understand that the majority of illicit drugs entering the United States do so through legal ports of entry. Traffickers hide drugs in compartments within passenger cars or commingle the drugs with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.
Earlier this year, Customs and Border Protection officers in Indio confiscated over 37 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside the seats of a vehicle. Officials have also found narcotics hidden in produce containers.
From 2009 to 2016, there was a 214 percent increase in heroin seizures and a 631 percent increase in methamphetamine seizures at the Southwest border.
In the first seven months of fiscal year 2017, the Border Patrol seized 1,600 pounds of methamphetamine just in San Diego. In March 2017, border officials at the Otay Mesa port of entry seized 47,340 tablets of Oxycodone, worth $1.4 million.
Law enforcement currently lacks the equipment it needs to detect illicit drugs, like fentanyl. That’s why I cosponsored the Interdict Act, which provides Customs and Border Protection with additional resources to detect and interdict these substances.
Instead of wasting scarce resources on a wall that will be ineffective, we should focus on real solutions.
We must prioritize funding for the U.S. Coast Guard and its partner agencies, which prevent drugs from entering via our shores.
We must engage with our international partners. The illicit drug trade is, after all, a global problem. We should strengthen cooperative counternarcotics work, including efforts to attack the financial networks of transnational criminal organizations. The Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Counterfeiting Act, which I co-sponsored, will bolster these efforts.
Let’s be sure that U.S. supported programs achieve their intended goals. That’s why I worked to include language in last year’s budget requiring the State Department to ensure that the programs funded through the Merida Initiative reduce the amount of drugs crossing the border and result in successful prosecutions of drug traffickers.
Similarly, we must hold our friends in Colombia accountable for achieving significant reductions in coca cultivation. Currently, 92 percent of cocaine found in our country originates from Colombia.
We must also address a fundamental fact: domestic demand drives the ever-increasing volume of drugs entering our country. Overdose deaths have increased 21 percent in the past year. The president’s failure to nominate a qualified leader to direct the Office of National Drug Control Policy and proposals to cut key programs shows he isn’t serious about addressing this issue.
President Trump’s wall would be a waste billions of taxpayer dollars for a litany of reasons, and it certainly can’t take the place of an effective counternarcotics strategy.
While I’ll do everything to ensure we don’t squander our resources on the president’s wall, we must also remain focused on real solutions.
We need a comprehensive plan to fight back against illicit drug trafficking. The health of our citizens and security of our borders depends on it.
Feinstein is a U.S. senator from California. A Democrat, she was first elected in 1992.