Along with “murderers and rapists,” President Donald Trump would have you believe that his famed and heretofore mythical wall on the U.S.’s border with Mexico will keep imported drugs out of the country.
Like so much else the president says, this is not true—and won’t be true, whether the wall is 100 feet high or a thousand or constructed out of concrete or an impenetrable force field. The people tasked with bringing drugs, people and luchadore masks north across the border have already mastered ways of entering the United States that render walls expensive irrelevancies.
Between 2011 and 2016, border agents working under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discovered a slew of wall-proof border crossings: 67 tunnels, 534 crossings via ultralight aircraft and 309 landings of drug-laden, fiberglass-hulled boats (called panga boats).
And these were just the ones police happened to discover!
In 2015, DHS reported seizing or stopping “3.3 million pounds of narcotics.” By every metric, law enforcement uncovers only a fraction of offenders of any kind—and no more than 10 percent of illegal drugs, according to a much-cited DEA estimate.
If that’s true, the desert sands beneath the border resemble a busy ant farm, and there are more cross-border planes ferrying drugs than there are discounted flights to Cabo.
It almost sounds as if what DHS is doing to keep drugs out of the country isn’t working. According to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) watchdog report, DHS certainly can’t be sure if what it’s doing is working, as the Daily Caller reported earlier this week.
“DHS has not assessed its performance in addressing any of the selected smuggling methods,” the GAO report’s authors wrote. “DHS has taken steps to assess and address the risk posed by these smuggling methods, but opportunities exist to ensure these efforts are effective and that managers and stakeholders have information needed to make decisions.”
This is government-speak for “show your work,” but it goes further than that. DHS can tell us that they’re doing stuff, but they can’t speak to whether that stuff is doing any good. Not that they’re trying very hard.
DHS doesn’t have any kind of metric that would show how effective its tunnel or aircraft-interdiction operations are at stopping the flow of drugs—and existing tunnel teams are lost in typical government bureaucracy, where different groups are tasked with the same job but don’t share information well or communicate.
It gets worse. As the Caller reported:
Agency officials formed a panel in 2012 to select new technologies to fight the cartels but “the co-chaired committee has never convened,” and the official “responsible for tunnel coordination and oversight was unaware of the existence of the committee,” according to GAO.
This is probably because stopping drugs at the border is an ultimately futile game of whack-a-mole—and the government knows it.
Around the turn of the millennium, the border with Mexico was fortified and militarized to an extent not seen since 1846—when the two countries were at war (with one another, not with drugs). In a 2015 report to Congress, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol acknowledged that successes intercepting drugs at border crossings only resulted in more tunnel activity.
But let’s return to the wall.
Even if there were no pangas, tunnels or intrepid pilots buzzing over it, drugs would still enter the U.S.—because the wall has doors in it.
Most drugs enter the U.S. in vehicles entering at legitimate border crossings, where the volume of traffic is simply too great for law enforcement to do much but imperceptibly slow the tide.
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