“We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross — and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate. We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth.”
-President Donald J. Trump, Address to Congress, February 28, 2017
According to the occupant of the White House, our borders, particularly the one with Mexico, are overrun with illegal immigrants sneaking into the country and bringing with them drugs and crime.
As with much of Donald Trump’s rhetoric, it does not square with the reality in which the rest of us exist.
I started with a visit to the website of the US Customs and Border Patrol. There they publish annual performance reports that detail the amount of immigrants and drugs they have seized.
The first thing I noticed, despite the bleating from Trumpists that the Mexicans “err comin’ t’ take err jerrrbs,” it looks as though we’re intercepting less than half the amount of immigrants illegally attempting to cross our border as we have since Nixon was president.
In fact, looking at the five-year rolling average (to smooth out one-year spikes) we find that we’ve got the second-lowest rate of captured illegal immigrants since the early 1970s. Our current five-year rolling average sits at just above 400,000.
In other words, we’re not “leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross,” at least, compared to the span of Reagan’s 2nd term, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations, when the five-year rolling average stayed well above one million.
But what about the drugs? Well, here is a look at the CBP’s stats for drug seizures over the past six years (all the data they make available):
Over the past six years, seizures of drugs by CBP have declined, with marijuana making up all but 1.2 percent of the drugs seized by weight. The amount of marijuana seized has declined every year since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. The Washington Post reports that farmers in Mexico are turning away from cannabis as a crop, since legalization has dropped the going price for wholesale Mexican marijuana:
Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.
“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
In other words, drugs are not pouring into America “at a now unprecedented rate,” at least as long as Mr. Trump is considering marijuana a drug.
Heroin seizures have increased slightly since marijuana legalization. But the rate is not “unprecedented,” as we seized more in 2014 than 2016. Part of this can be traced to the legalization killing the profits of Mexican-grown cannabis, and those farmers turning instead to producing opium. As Washington Post notes:
Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.
However, the demand for those opiates north of the border has been fueled by the drug companies that produce legal pharmaceutical opiates like OxyContin and Vicodin, unleashed by the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control to produce greater and greater quantities of the addictive opiates.
Maddeningly, Diversion Control increased those opiate quotas specifically so people addicted to opiates wouldn’t upset the supply for the legal users:
“What you have to understand,” [DEA Supervisory Special Agent Gary] Boggs replied, “is that you do have legitimate patients and they’re fishing from the same pond that the illegitimate patients are fishing from, so you have to be cautious not to restrict the quota to the point that when the legitimate parties go to the pool, all the fish haven’t been taken out by the illegitimate parties.”
Cocaine seizures are down at the border, aside from a one-year spike.
The only drug for which the Trump Administration can claim there are unprecedented amounts flowing over our borders is methamphetamine:
The website InSightCrime, which focuses on Latin American crime trends, put it this way:
According to a report (pdf) by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent body tasked with monitoring the United Nations drug accords, Mexican authorities seized over 19 tons of methamphetamine in 2014, a 34 percent increase from the previous year. Authorities also discovered 131 methamphetamine laboratories, most of which were located in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, and Sinaloa.
In addition, seizures of methamphetamine at the US border have “increased by a factor of three since 2009,” the report states. In response, the smuggling methods of Mexican criminal groups are becoming more sophisticated in order to avoid detection. Methamphetamine is increasingly being diluted in a liquid solvent, making the drug harder to detect, according to the INCB.
But is it the methamphetamine poisoning our youth that Mr. Trump refers to, or the marijuana? According to Monitoring the Future, when you take marijuana out of the equation, fewer teens are using drugs monthly than ever measured in the 21st Century:
But when you consider monthly marijuana use by teens, it rose sharply
after leading up to the legalization of medical marijuana in California.
So, the only way Donald Trump is being honest when he says “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth” is if he’s intending to stop methamphetamine from pouring into our country and intending to stop marijuana from poisoning our youth.