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The Argument of Who Seizes more Narcotics: Border Patrol or CBP.

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Fentanyl seized by US Border Patrol. Source: US Border Patrol social media.

Quite frequently, the US Border Patrol's Union (National Border Patrol Council) argues that their agents are seizing more narcotics than any other agency. This is not true, not even by their own statistics. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports that the Border Patrol has seized 653.9K of illegal drugs in the last 4 years, and CBP has seized 2,436K in the same time frame.

It is important for readers to understand that the areas CBP and Border Patrol work in are not the same. While agents from either agency can overlap, meaning that sometimes CBP is assigned to Border Patrol processing and sometimes Border Patrol will work with CBP at the ports of entry, most of the time they are working in completely separate areas. CBP (officers in blue) works land, water and air ports of entry. They inspect people and cargo entering the US through ports of entry, cargo shipping ports and airports. The Border Patrol (agents in green) works in between the ports of entry to apprehend people and goods circumventing inspections.

The smuggling of narcotics looks different depending on whether the goods are smuggling through the ports versus in between the ports. At land, water and air ports of entry, CBP is generally looking at cars, cargo trucks, cargo shipping containers, etc. bringing goods into the country as well as individuals who may be smuggling smaller quantities of drugs on their person or in their luggage. Border Patrol agents encounter drug smugglers and their products when smugglers hike bags of drugs into the country to a specific pre-arranged drop spot. Occasionally, Border Patrol encounters drones dropping drugs or smugglers using underground tunnels to cross their goods into the US without inspection.

Border Patrol agents also discover drugs smuggled into the country at over a hundred checkpoints within 100 miles of any land or water border spread throughout the nation. Once drugs are inside the US, they then transport the narcotics away from the border and into the interior of the country to quench Americans' never ending desire. Narcotics found in vehicles coming through Border Patrol checkpoints could have entered the country either through the ports of entry where CBP works or through the areas in between the ports where Border Patrol works. When seizures are made at checkpoints or in vehicle stops, agents often have no idea how the drugs entered the country. We therefore have no idea how the drugs entered when they are found at Border Patrol checkpoints or in vehicle stops unless further investigations are done.

Obviously, a human being trying to cross the southern border in between the ports can only carry so much weight in a backpack while climbing the mountains in California, traversing deserts in California and Arizona, or the Rio Grande river in Texas. My experience as an agent and working on several narcotics task forces is that the backpacks usually contained 60-80 lbs. Sometimes, a few backpacks are thrown into a car and off they go to try and get through the checkpoints. Other times, the backpacks are collected in a stash house and consolidated into a larger load that is then sent through a Border Patrol checkpoint. It is not unusual for the smugglers to bribe Border Patrol agents to wave the cars through without inspection.

As a young Border Patrol agent, it frustrated me that we rarely found cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin. It was mostly marijuana. When I asked my training agent why we never saw more of these drugs in backpacks and only at the checkpoints, he stated it was because those drugs are more expensive than marijuana and not worth the risk. It is easier for smugglers of cocaine and other expensive drugs to buy off corrupt CBP officers and use the ports of entry whether they are land, water or air. This is still true today.

This CBP statistics graph further breaks down the seizures of narcotics by the types of drugs and demonstrates that the Border Patrol narcotics seizures are still predominately marijuana seizures even though medical and recreational marijuana is now legal in 3 of the 4 southern border states. The graphs below also demonstrate how the logistics and economics of smuggling in between the ports does happen, just not as often as it does at the ports.

Border Patrol narcotics seizures for the last 4 years broken down by type of drug. Source:
CBP narcotics seizures for the last 4 years broken down by drug type. Source:

Experts on social media have pointed these statistical facts out to the Border Patrol Union repeatedly. Never willing to admit they are wrong, the union leaders are now claiming that their numbers are so low because they are spending too much time processing migrants and that we have no idea how much dope is getting away. The problem with this argument is that CBP can make the same argument. It's true, we have no way of knowing how much gets through except to see how many arrests and overdoses are occurring within our cities for those drugs, and even that is simply a guesstimate at best and cannot give a complete picture of organized narcotics smuggling.

While the federal government has used 9/11 to rebuild and expand the authorities and inspections by CBP and the Border Patrol, they are still only inspecting a small percentage of vehicles and cargo containers that arrive at the land port of entries by truck or rail cars. Below is a graph that only shows vehicles scanned at the southern border with Mexico.

US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs report on Addressing the Supply Chain of Synthetic Drugs in the US. (December 2022)

As the graph shows, the vast majority of conveyances are not searched. Even though the federal government has increased the inspections at the ports of entry, CBP cannot keep pace with our desire for goods. To hold vehicles and scan the majority would cause the prices of goods and services to increase to the point of having a deep impact on the economy. It would also cause wait times at the ports of entry on the southern border to skyrocket. If CBP could increase inspections at ports of entry, they would logically increase drug seizures, but this would still not curb the amount of dangerous narcotics that enter our country today.

Border Patrol Union, experts, the CBP and media rarely talk about and how most narcotics do get into the country: large shipping cargo containers that enter through the shipping ports. Cargo containers are not only the most economical way to smuggle large quantities of drugs, they are the most efficient because the drug cartels are exploiting our desire for cheap goods and our government's unwillingness to slow down commerce to stop it. Here's why:

As states, CBP uses "risk-based analysis" to determine which containers to search. CBP has pre-existing agreements from many large companies importing goods into the US that their cargo containers contain no narcotics or weapons of mass destruction. (You can read more about these programs here.) That does not mean a CBP officer cannot inspect these containers that are pre-approved without inspections, but it does limit the number of containers that are inspected. It also does not insure that these containers do not contain dangerous narcotics. CBP offers many pre-authorized programs to different groups including people who cross the border daily for work. These types of passes allow for people to go through background checks and enter the country with minimal inspections. From time to time, CBP will inspect those people and companies with pre-approved passes and they do find that the system has been compromised and is being used for drug smuggling.

What CBP and the government have not addressed adequately are the inspections of large shipping containers at the shipping ports like Los Angeles and other large cities. According to the American Journal of Transportation in 2021, CBP only inspected about 3.7% of shipping containers at these ports. This means that while CBP is inspecting over 300,000 of those large containers, it is not inspecting over 10 million of them. Even if we added the containers inspected at foreign ports before setting sail for the US ports, that still leaves over 10 million containers not inspected at all.

2021 American Journal of Transportation

Of those 300,000 to 400,000 shipping containers inspected, CBP does find large amounts of drugs being smuggled. This inspection by CBP found over 17.5 tons of cocaine. This cocaine seizure of 20 tons occurred on a cargo ship owned by JP Morgan. In this shipping container, CBP discovered heroin and cocaine. While some fentanyl has been found on these cargo containers, the manufacturing of the drug is still mostly being done by the Mexican cartels according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. This is why the majority of seizures are found by the CBP at the land ports of entry on the southwest border versus the large cargo shipping containers.

The costs to manufacture fentanyl and the risks involved in smuggling it continue to force smugglers to use the land ports of entry where CBP inspects more often than in between the ports where Border Patrol works. Still, they cannot inspect every single conveyance or person. Once the drugs make it through these land ports either by luck or by bribery, it is then smuggled through Border Patrol checkpoints in personal cars, commercial transportation and even in luggage and person's bodies. This is where we see fentanyl and other drugs aside from marijuana being apprehended by Border Patrol.

The main reason why CBP seizes more illegal narcotics than Border Patrol is simply logistics and basic economics. Border Patrol Union will continue to lie to the American public about their narcotics seizure statistics because they have an insatiable desire to be top dog and receive adulation, but there is no denying that CBP is the agency seizing the majority of narcotics coming into the US.


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