A new report says the common perception of a drug smuggler — undocumented and/or Mexican — has the inconvenient distinction of being wrong. A report by the Center for Investigate Reporting (CIR) based on statistics received through Freedom of Information Act requests finds that 3 out of 4 people found with drugs by the border agency are U.S. citizens, or looked at differently, 4 out of 5 drug busts, which may include multiple people, involve a U.S. citizen.
“There is no disagreement that Mexican-based transnational organizations far and away dominate drug smuggling,” says Andrew Becker, one of the writers of the report. “But the people the Border Patrol catches paints a different picture than what the Border Patrol says in its press releases.”
CIR is open about the data being incomplete. Out of the 81,261 seizures, nearly half don’t have suspect information. The statistics used by CIR are based on the more than 40,000 seizures with suspect information. Out of those, a U.S. citizen was involved 80 percent of the time.
Becker says the incomplete data most likely is from abandoned drug loads — loads that were dropped off or stashed and were come upon by law enforcement officials before anyone else. Based on the data they did have, CIR found that the number of U.S. citizens nabbed with drugs by Border Patrol has increased every year since 2005, except in 2011 when it dipped slightly.
The report compared the figures to press releases by the Border Patrol as of way of getting at the question of why the perception is solely one of Mexican drug traffickers.
Customs and Border Protection told CIR it issues news releases to highlight significant or “otherwise noteworthy seizures.” The most commonly highlighted busts involve large amounts of narcotics, unusual trafficking or concealment methods, or other notable factors, according to the agency.
But the data looked at in the report found that a U.S. citizen is more often caught with large amounts of drugs than a non-U.S. citizen. When immigration status is noted, a U.S. citizen is involved in drug trafficking 60 percent of the time. “For marijuana busts of 1,000 pounds or more, the percentage climbs to more than two-thirds,” the report states.
Alonzo Peña, who retired in 2010 as deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said undocumented immigrants have been increasingly portrayed as “boogeymen” in the United States.
“After 9/11, the immigrant, terrorist and criminal and the threat to national security have all been lumped together,” he told CIR. “We’re not distinguishing very well who is who.”