(NewsNation) — An exclusive NewsNation report details how Mexican drug cartels are using American citizens to aid human smuggling efforts, and it doesn’t come as a surprise to Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.
“We’ve seen this this tactic of using innocent people, and even not innocent people, to ferry drugs across the open borders, and now it’s using them to take it across our ports of entry,” Nanos said Thursday on “CUOMO.” “(It’s) absolutely not” a shock.
The Arizona law enforcement official is one of many dealing with a drug trafficking and human smuggling trade that’s bringing a historic amount of fentanyl across — and number of migrants to — the border. Despite any federal efforts to combat the drug trade, Nanos says it’s apparent a revised strategy may be required.
The NewsNation report detailed how U.S. citizens acting as smugglers are circumventing recently reopened checkpoints in Arizona, with the promise of being paid $500 to $1,000 per person when they get to their destination.
In neighboring Cochise County, the sheriff’s office nabbed 1,578 people for state border-related crimes such as smuggling last year, and 1,500 of them were U.S. citizens.
“To see the cartels back-feeding crime to these kids, ‘Come down here, we’ll give you $3,000, come to Cochise County,’ per person that seems so simple, seems so innocent, when it’s international crime,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said. “They don’t care about these kids, and we’re seeing it”
The United States has seen a major increase in the number of migrants arriving at the southern border over the past year, with more than 2.37 million encounters in the 2022 fiscal year that ran from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022.
Encounters have topped 231,000 in each of the first three months of the 2023 fiscal year, according to Customs and Border Protection. They were up 40% in October, 34% in November and 40% in December from their prior year marks.
Mexican drug cartels have also been wreaking havoc on American communities with shipments of fentanyl — the Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than 50 million fentanyl pills last year. One DEA official said Wednesday that cartels are the “greatest criminal drug threat the United States has ever faced.”
Pima County hasn’t been spared.
“We’ve identified (fentanyl) as one of the leading cause of deaths of our kids,” Nanos said. “I think last year we had something like 15 overdose deaths of kids, and every single one of them was with fentanyl. (The pills) are just everywhere.”
State officials including former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have placed blame on the Biden administration for not doing enough to combat the cartels and enforce stricter border security measures. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said a lack of federal resources has required the state’s National Guard to step in to handle migrants arriving by boat.
While more manpower and security measures may be an integral part of stopping the drug trade, Nanos has a different solution in mind.
“The issue to me, though, isn’t our federal partners not being responsive, it’s the strategy that’s in place. What have we spent on this war on drugs, trillions? And where’s the strategy been?” he said. “We could take out the cartels and arrest all the (El) Chapo Guzmans of the world, but how fast are those people replaced, within seconds? That’s not that it isn’t an important part of it, but that’s not the key to me.”
Instead, Nanos argued the key is on the demand side. He called for more educational programming and a greater emphasis on investing in the nation’s children.
“Let’s face it — all of our social ills from poverty to homeless to drug abuse … it all comes back to one thing: education. My jail’s loaded with substance abusers and people who suffer from mental health, thousands of them, and yet, there’s not too many people in there with master’s degrees or doctorates,” Nanos said. “We know that if we can get these young kids to just graduate high school, just get through high school, they stand a seven times greater chance of not going to my jail. So, how hard is that?”