What you find depends on who you're looking for.
A new report has been released by the Center for Investigative Reporting on smuggling over the US's southwestern border with Mexico. According to the CIR, quote:
“Nearly half of the 81,261 seizures don’t have suspect information available, because the drug loads were abandoned and no one was caught. In the remaining busts – more than 40,000 drug seizures – at least one U.S. citizen was involved 80 percent of the time.” End quote. In fact, the report notes, four out of five of those busted for drugs at the southwest border were US citizens.
Unfortunately there is a widespread perception, certainly among law enforcement, that smuggling of drugs from Mexico mostly involves Mexican nationals and people without proper documentation. As the CIR noted, quote:
“Of nearly 2,000 press releases from the Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, between 2005 and 2011 that mentioned a drug-trafficking suspect, 38 percent noted a Mexican national had been arrested. U.S. citizens, meanwhile, were mentioned roughly 30 percent of the time, even though they represent a much higher percentage of those busted, according to the analysis. The remaining one-third of press releases did not include information on the nationality of those caught with drugs.” End quote.
First, some history. In the 1980s, the east coast's Interstate 95 corridor was notorious for cocaine smuggling. I-95 runs from Miami up through DC, Baltimore, Philly, New York City, and the Boston area. Law enforcement claimed to use drug courier profiles to determine who to stop and possibly search on the highways. Activists and civil rights groups were able to show that police were actually stopping a disproportionate number of African-Americans and people of Hispanic descent without stopping significant amounts of drugs. The manner in which the drug laws were investigated and enforced was part of the reason for their failure.
Successful smuggling operations play on those prejudices and biases which afflict border agents and others in law enforcement. We've made progress, but the fact is US law enforcement – the entire criminal justice system really – still suffers from systemic biases based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and socioeconomic status. It was much worse in the 1980s, which is when I first got involved in drug policy reform, but it still exists, and it cripples effective law enforcement. Dealers, brokers, cartels – they know this and they adapted. There's no shortage of American citizens desperate for a pay day – citizens who look middle-aged, middle-class, and respectable because they are – so there's a sizable pool of willing candidates out there looking for the work.
The authorities on the other hand? It's sad. The fact that Customs and Border Protection Agency spokesman William Brooks, with no data, could assert to the CIR reporters that, quote “Anecdotally, we have U.S. citizens who smuggle drugs, in large amounts sometimes. The majority of people involved in smuggling drugs are citizens of Mexico.” end quote, shows we have a long way to go. Hopefully, this report will help get all of us – law enforcement, policy makers, prohibitionists and reformers – to reconsider how we think about Mexico and how we view its people, as well as what we think of those involved in the illegal drug trade.
For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.
This piece and many more news items are available to listen and download from the Drug Truth Network website.