by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-mo.), Opinion Contributor
In October, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border on a fact-finding mission to learn firsthand about the challenges facing our customs officers and Border Patrol agents working on the front line.
As I traveled through Nogales, Ariz., I listened closely to the stories of our dedicated agents. These men and women are combating highly funded, highly manned and well-organized Mexican cartels. The cartels control the entire Mexican border and will take advantage of any lucrative opportunity that comes their way. Their biggest form of profit is smuggling people and dangerous drugs into the United States.
My border visit began at the Mariposa Port of Entry. This port is responsible for checking cars, trucks and pedestrians that cross into the United States. The customs officers are tasked with protecting the American public from harmful agricultural products, illegal drugs and dangerous individuals entering the United States. The officers assigned to this port use advanced skills and technology to try to detect illegal drugs hidden in obscure locations, such as Coca-Cola bottles or cans of jalapeños. They have stopped millions of dollars of drugs coming into our communities through their diligent efforts.
As I toured the Mariposa Port of Entry, I noticed cartel scouts conducting countersurveillance on the hills in Mexico overlooking the port. These scouts watch the border around the clock in order to find gaps in security to smuggle people and drugs into the United States.
Following my tour of the port, I was joined by several Border Patrol agents to learn about the challenges in securing the vast length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Along the border in Nogales lies a fence stretching along rough mountainous terrain. This terrain makes it difficult — and dangerous — for border agents to operate. Unfortunately, you can see where funding ended for the effective version of fencing, before it transitions into only barbed wire and then evaporates into nothing — leaving no physical barrier on the border.
The lack of physical barrier helps cartels encourage and exploit women and children to enter the United States in order to make a profit. Often, these individuals are left for dead in the desert with the false hope of reaching their destination. Border agents, with the help of the National Guard, frequently conduct life-saving rescue missions in the desert climate. The National Guard assists the Border Patrol by providing situational awareness and transportation for rapid deployment.
Border Patrol agents must also work to combat illicit drug trafficking. Mexican cartels use a variety of methods to conduct their illicit activities along the U.S.-Mexico border. In Nogales, more than 100 tunnels have been discovered since 1990, used primarily to smuggle drugs. Over the last several years, there has been a decline in marijuana seizures and an increase in hard drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. Individuals transporting illicit drugs by foot across the border in remote areas, also known as drug mules, are more likely to attack Border Patrol agents in order to protect their products.
Our customs officers and Border Patrol agents work diligently every day to protect our border; however, it is clear to me that Congress must do more. Mexican drug cartels are currently exploiting gaps in our border security, and it is our responsibility to fill those gaps to keep their illicit activities out of the United States. Congress must heavily invest in three key capabilities: infrastructure, advanced technology, and more customs officers and Border Patrol agents. There are many challenges along the U.S.-Mexico border, and these three investments will help to enhance U.S. border security and, ultimately, keep our communities safer.
Hartzler represents Missouri’s 4th District. She serves on the House Armed Services and Agriculture committees.