On the ground at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Rep. Greg Stanton
8 min readAug 25, 2022

Arizonans know the unique opportunities and challenges that come with being a border state better than anyone.

Our proximity to the border provides unparalleled opportunity for trade and has been a boon to many Arizona businesses. Trade with Mexico supports tens of thousands of good jobs in our state.

We know that our border must be secure — and if it isn’t, opioids and other drugs can come across and wreak havoc on our communities, while cartels and traffickers extort and smuggle migrants in abhorrent conditions across our dangerous deserts.

Migration issues are not unique to the United States. Increased migration is a worldwide crisis in which human tragedy in the developing world is putting pressure on countries like ours.

And when the federal government is overwhelmed, it passes the buck and places an incredible burden on local law enforcement, communities and our nonprofits.

Despite the added burden, we have efficient, diligent teams that allow for successful trade to happen — being a border state is helpful to our economy. Thousands of Arizona businesses depend on cross-border trade and tourism, and I’ve worked hard in Congress to ensure our Ports of Entry are efficient.

Earlier this month, I again visited the border — this time, in Nogales — to learn the latest from the people on the ground.

Part 1: Border Security

When it comes to threats at the border, drug trafficking is a top concern. Our nation is in the midst of a tragic overdose crisis that has claimed far too many lives — driven primarily by illicit fentanyl.

Fentanyl seizures at the southwest border have been steadily increasing each year since at least 2016, according to the DEA. While most drugs are intercepted at ports of entry, an increasing amount of fentanyl is being intercepted in the desert. That’s why I’m working in Congress to fund smart and effective investments in border security technology and operations to better detect drug smugglers — in fact, I’ve worked to advance the most significant border security funding bill in history.

I’ve also introduced a bipartisan bill to crack down on drug traffickers by implementing new penalties for counterfeit pill production. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, 42% of all overdoses in Arizona involve fentanyl, and over the last two years, there has been an increase of 1,610% in counterfeit pill seizures, many smuggled from Mexico or China. These counterfeit pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone or stimulants like amphetamines and are often sold on social media or e-commerce websites.

During my visit, Border Patrol agents shared many of the challenges they face — and the successes they’re having in their interdiction efforts. One thing that’s clear: it’s imperative that the Department of Homeland Security coordinates its efforts across the southwestern border. The agents operating around Nogales are tasked with providing decompression relief — processing and housing migrants — for other regions, sectors, and states. And directing efforts toward processing pulls Border Patrol agents from their law enforcement duties. As the Biden Administration prepares for the eventual lifting of Title 42, DHS must do more to ensure agents have the resources they need to ensure safety and order at the border.

Part 2: The Humanitarian Crisis

Arizonans deserve a secure and orderly border, but also expect a humane response to increased migration. And it’s important that we stem the flow of migrants illegally crossing the border. It’s not just a talking point — it’s a safety issue.

Tragically, our nation witnessed the cruel horrors that migrants can endure when they pay cartels to smuggle them into the United States — just last month, 53 people died from heat exhaustion after being concealed in semi-truck trailer to cross the border. And I heard directly from Border Patrol officers in Nogales about the perilous journeys migrants take on-foot through the mountains in Arizona’s extreme heat and terrain. I was shown firsthand footage of the rescues our Border Patrol officers make when migrants are so fatigued and dehydrated — abandoned by their cartel coyotes — that they must call 911 for assistance, stranded in hard-to-access regions of the Arizona desert. It’s dangerous for the migrants, and it’s dangerous for the officers.

Moreover, it’s a legitimate safety issue for our border communities — and for the American people — to not know who exactly is entering our country. While many migrants are seeking a better life for themselves or a way to provide for their families back home, some who attempt to unlawfully enter our country doing so for nefarious reasons. Members of terrorist organizations, drug smugglers, gang members, and other fugitives cross Arizona’s border with the sole intention of furthering their criminal enterprise.

It is vital for our national security that migrants be processed at Ports of Entry so that the federal government can conduct the necessary background checks and screenings to ensure we know who is in the United States.

In the past several years, we have seen unprecedented activity at our borders. Those on the ground have told me that the entire chain — starting with the Border Patrol and ICE to local law enforcement, and nonprofit refugee centers — is already overwhelmed. And when Title 42 is eventually lifted, a surge of migration will likely occur. That’s why I’ve called on DHS to make a plan that meets the moment — and prove it by showing Congress and the American people. The Biden Administration didn’t create the problems associated with Title 42, but now it’s our duty and responsibility to ensure an ending of the policy causes no further harm to border communities and those attempting to migrate.

On my trip, I visited Casa Alitas in Tucson, a humanitarian aid organization that partners with the federal government to serve asylum-seekers who’ve been released from ICE and CBP custody. Their team can service anywhere from 100 to 700 people at a time, providing a welcoming, comfortable, safe location for these individuals to await the next step in their journey — but many arrive unprepared to travel, in need of toiletries, clothing, food and shelter.

I toured their operation in Tucson and spoke to asylum-seekers directly. But although Casa Alitas does all it can to help migrants in need, with any surge there will come a breaking point.

Putting more pressure on a system that can’t handle it carries a significant risk of creating a full-scale humanitarian crisis on American soil.

I’ll keep working in Congress to provide support to nonprofits and border communities to meet the demands they are facing, and I’ll continue to hold the Biden Administration accountable for meeting this moment.

Part 3: Economic Impact of Border Activity

Effectively moving goods and people through our ports of entry is essential to Arizona’s economy. We are back to pre-pandemic levels of trade — for the first three months of this year the U.S. exported to Mexico $75.9 billion worth of goods, and imports from Mexico reached a total of $106.2 billion for the same time period.

I visited the Mariposa Crossing at the Port of Nogales, where Customs and Border Patrol officers inspect cargo, vehicles and pedestrians looking for counterfeit products, products that violate existing trade agreements and products designed to smuggle drugs. Federal investments in new technologies — like Multi-Energy Portal Scanners used to inspect semi-trucks and their cargo trailers — are increasing efficiency and decreasing wait times at the port.

But the men and women who serve as CBP officers remain essential to the mission at the border. And Congress must continue to allocate resources to ensure appropriate staffing levels for these roles. CBP officers go through extensive training to know exactly what to look for to stop those products and bad actors at the border — but they also play an important role in supporting our growing import and export-based economy.

At this port alone, they inspect over 30 million pounds of produce every day to make sure they are free of harmful pests and safe to eat. These Customs officers perform essential duties — which is why I have and will continue to push for more federal funding for additional staff and modern technology to help them perform these inspections.

I also met with the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which provides a powerful voice for more than 100 companies involved in the growth, harvest, marketing, import, and distribution of Mexican produce. FPAA discussed its close working relationship with CBP — and advocated strongly for full staffing and investment in Ports of Entry.

And I agree — high-tech ports are essential to America and Arizona’s economy. In Arizona, we know full-well the economic benefit of being Mexico’s neighbor. Mexico is Arizona’s largest trading partner, and we do more than $16 billion in yearly two-way trade with Mexico. What’s more is the impact that border traffic has on Arizona’s tourism industry, with visitors from Mexico spending more than $3 bill per year in Arizona. Last year alone, CBP processed more than 4.6 million vehicle passengers, nearly 1.8 million pedestrians, nearly 380,000 trucks, and nearly 170,000 bus passengers through the Port of Nogales.

It’s an immense operation that supports jobs and small businesses in Arizona — and we in Congress must do all we can to ensure DHS and CBP have the resources they need to continue investing, operating, and expanding in our state.

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