(NewsNation) — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched an operation to detect and seize fentanyl at and between ports of entry along the southwest border, cracking down on the cartels.
“Operation Blue Lotus is a DHS-led, coordinated surge effort to curtail the flow of illicit fentanyl smuggled into the United States from Mexico and bring to justice the dangerous criminal organizations profiting from the illegal production, distribution, and sale of this dangerous substance,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas.
Mayorkas said the agency began running the operation on March 13 and according to a release from DHS, it has already stopped more than 900 pounds of fentanyl from entering the country in its first week.
Operation Blue Lotus invests additional personnel, technology, and other resources to combat the smuggling of fentanyl and calls for an increase in targeted inspections along the border.
Furthermore, the intelligence gained through Operation Blue Lotus will enhance the targeting of drug traffickers at the border, according to the DHS, and is designed to help continue to build criminal cases against the criminal organizations behind the networks and facilitators bringing fentanyl into the country.
The DHS says the operation is a coordinated operation in conjunction with federal, state, tribal and local partners, but some say the initiative has kept local law enforcement along the border in the dark.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels says it is insulting that the federal government didn’t communicate about operations that could have a direct impact on his county.
“I mean it’s good that we’re seizing it, but can’t we do a better job if we work together?” Dannels said. “It’s upsetting, it’s frustrating because until we start working together — I got a neon light — you’re welcome here.”
Across the southern border last month, at least 2,300 pounds of the deadly drug was seized by multiple agencies. That is a 64% increase from January.
The first five months of this fiscal year have produced 78% of the total amount seized last year, meaning we are on track to nearly double last year’s seizures.
That comes as law enforcement says they are only catching between 5% and 10% of the fentanyl that is coming into the country.
“We’d be naive to think that what has been seized in Arizona, California, Texas and beyond is the majority that is coming across,” Dannels said.
While DHS is touting the early success of Operation Blue Lotus, National Border Patrol Council Vice President Art Del Cueto said, “it’s inevitable that you’re gonna be in a position where you seize more fentanyl because there’s more fentanyl coming in.”
U.S. Border Patrol says additional agents have not been brought in to supplement these programs, leaving the border vulnerable.
“If they’re not hiring more agents, they’re moving them from somewhere,” Del Cueto said.
However, programs within the agency are expanding.
“They get from Peter to pay Paul, so you leave other gaps,” Del Cueto said. “So if you start moving agents or individuals to another area, that’s where you’re seeing some of the things affected.”
And while attention is on the drugs being smuggled in, Border Patrol says the cartel is always aware of the shifts in personnel.
“When you do deploy agents to other areas, what areas are you actually hurting at the same time, and you got to know the cartels, they can easily move around,” Del Cueto said. “So they can say, hey, there’s more here. Now, let’s move our operations to other areas where we can get our products across.”
According to the release from DHS, Operation Blue Lotus includes the deployment of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) personnel alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at ports of entry, so that they can immediately pursue investigations as contraband is discovered in order to expose the networks.
“If we lose any more federal agents the only winner of that is the criminal cartels once again.” Dannels said.