How the U.S. Border Patrol Addresses Drug Smuggling, Human Trafficking and Terrorist Travel

Border patrol station between Mexico and USA.
Category: Industry Insights

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The following is a transcript of Part 2 of Addressing Threats to U.S. Borders and Cybersecurity, a webinar hosted by Columbia Southern University on Thursday, May 16, 2019. To review Part 1 or skip ahead to Part 3, follow the link below.

Transcript, Part 1: Protecting U.S. Borders Using Cybersecurity
Transcript, Part 3: Q&A


Dr. Tamara Mouras: For my part of the presentation today we will focus on border patrol and security. As mentioned earlier, my name is Dr. Tamara Mouras, and I am academic program director for the criminal justice and homeland security programs here at Columbia Southern University. Let's get started.

What Is the United States Border Patrol?

We must first understand what the United States Border Patrol is. Border patrol is the effort and mission of protecting the United States border from terrorism and terrorists, preventing and deterring drug smuggling, as well as anti-human smuggling trafficking both into and out of our country. For the most part, Border Patrol efforts and its mission fall under the Department of Homeland Security.

To establish a timeline here, the Department of Homeland Security was established 11 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2002, the Department of Homeland Security formally became a standalone federal agency. It was evident the United States needed an agency that could create a prevention and deterrent outlet against any threats we may face in the country. Basically we moved from a reactive approach to national security to a more proactive approach.

Drug Smuggling

When it comes to locality and border concerns, most of our attention is focused on the southern border. That would be the Mexico and South America regions of the world. The southwest border of the United States is a principal arrival zone for the most illicit drugs smuggled into the United States, as well as a staging area for the drugs for subsequent distribution throughout the country. Concerns of drug smuggling can be witnessed at all entry points into the United States.

Locality and Border Concerns

As it relates to northern border, 69% is marijuana, 11% is cocaine, 10% is ecstasy, meth accounts for 8% and 2% are other synthetic drugs.

For our coastal border, cocaine accounts to 75%, marijuana 24% and others are 1%. That would be our east coast, west coast and gulf areas of the United States.

For the southwest border, marijuana counts for 95% and others are 5%.

I think it is important to understand while most media attention is focused on the U.S. southern border, any entry point to United States poses a risk for potential drug smuggling. We must understand we are vulnerable at all entry points into the United States.


Although we should and are concerned with drug smuggling at all entry points into the United States, it goes without question, hands-down, Mexico is the one of our greatest concerns as it relates to drug trafficking.

For a few statistics here, Mexico is the number one foreign supplier of marijuana to the United States, number one foreign supplier of meth into United States, and accounts for 39% of cocaine, which has a signature stamp originating in Mexico.

It should also be noted with the legalization of recreational marijuana and decriminalization in Alaska, California, Colorado, DC, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, further research should be considered on how decriminalization will impact the marijuana supply and demand scenario as it relates to the U.S. and Mexico and how this will affect the drug trade between the countries.

Data Overview

I thought it would be important to provide some stats and data. These numbers were provided by the CBP, Customs and Border Protection. The current stats and data from the Department of Homeland Security run from 2014 to 2016, so they're a few years behind, but they really give us a good scope of what is going on in the United States right now.

Drug Smuggling Statistics, Fiscal Year 2014-2016
  Marijuana Cocaine Heroin
FY 2014 180,686 kilograms 6,234 kilograms 1,556 kilograms
FY 2015 250,637 kilograms 7,190 kilograms 1,984 kilograms
FY 2016 219,960 kilograms 8,209 kilograms 1,483 kilograms

Marijuana seized in 2014 was roughly 180 kilos, and in 2015 we saw a rise to 250 kilos. Then in 2016 we saw a decline to around 220 kilos. This decline could be attributed to the decriminalization of marijuana in some states in the United States. We really have to look at this four to six years out from now to see how the marijuana trade is affected by the decriminalization of recreational marijuana.

We move on to cocaine seized, and we see in 2014 we're looking at about 6,000 kilos, in 2015 around 7,000 kilos, and in 2016 around 8,000 kilos. So while cocaine increases, marijuana is decreasing. This, with a decrease of marijuana, provides other opportunities for drugs to be pushed to the United States.

As it relates to heroin, we see this roughly staying about the same. In 2014 about 1,500 kilos, 2015 at 1,900 kilos, and 2016 around 1,500 kilos. Heroin is fluctuating a little bit up and down, but it's relatively staying the same.

Areas of Concern and Trends

It's important to go over some of the current drug trends so we can see what is of grave concern as it relates to homeland security professionals starting to think about deterrent and prevention methods. As drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana have seen gradual declines over the past several years, there are other drugs that have started to increase at alarming rates.


Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opium that is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl is now the most common drug involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59% of opium-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14.3% in 2010.

From a clinical standpoint, opium withdrawal is one of the most powerful factors driving dependence and addictive behaviors today. Examples include OxyContin and Vicodin, and some of the street names that you may come in contact with as a law enforcement officer are “happy pills,” “hillbilly heroin,” “vikes” and “OC.” So what we need to ask ourselves is: How much of this is crossing over to our borders compared to what is prescribed by doctors and physicians today?

Spillover Violence

As criminal justice and homeland security professionals, let's make sure we understand drug smuggling is a crime. We know criminals do not commit a single criminal act when partaking in deviant behavior. Oftentimes criminal activity is not just subject to one particular crime. As drug smuggling is a crime, we can witnesses a spillover into the U.S. of other violent criminal activity.

What is spillover violence? Spillover violence entails a deliberate planned attacks by the cartels on U.S. assets, including civilians, which would be soft targets, military and law enforcement officers, which would be hard targets, innocent U.S. citizens, who would be soft targets, and physical institutions such as government buildings and businesses.

Much of the risk of spillover violence is posed by the younger generation of traffickers whose approach to drug trade is less rational and profit-minded than that of their elders or by the multinational street and prison gangs working in concert with Mexican cartels as enforcers of street-level drug distributors. Elders typically follow the code while the younger generation may think about today's gains rather than long-term gains. There is certainly a generational gap as it relates to the rationale and the reasoning of trafficking.

Spillover violence is often witnessed within gang activities by prison and street gangs, as well as outlaw and motorcycle gangs. Some of these examples that you may have come across in law enforcement include the Mexican Mafia, 18th Street Gang and the Latin Kings.

Human Smuggling and Human Trafficking

Our second topic of human smuggling and human trafficking is intertwined with drug smuggling. Human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal activity in the world today, and it's the fastest growing. I want to make a clear distinction between human smuggling and human trafficking.

What is human smuggling? Human smuggling is the importation of people into a country via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This includes bringing people into a country illegally as well as unlawful transportation and/or harboring of those already in the country illegally. Migrant smuggling includes those who consent to being smuggled. So once a human smuggler has entered the country, the criminal activity does not stop there. These individuals are transported to various states through the corridors we discussed earlier.

What is human trafficking? Victims of human trafficking either do not consent to the situation or they initially consent. That consent is rendered meaningless by the actions of the traffickers. Ongoing exploitation of victims generate illicit profits for the traffickers. It is the exploitation of a person for labor or commercial sex.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Who oversees human smuggling and human trafficking? The deterring and prevention of human smuggling and trafficking mostly falls under the jurisdiction of ICE, which stands for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; however, ICE works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with state, local and federal agencies. It's important to note national security is the job of all law enforcement agencies in the United States who are charged with protecting the interests of the U.S. and all of its citizens.

Also, it's important to include some legislation acts that help deter human smuggling and human trafficking. One of these was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which established the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center. The center is responsible for four main elements:

  • Broad dissemination of all source information. The intelligence provides actionable leads for U.S. law enforcement agencies. Previously, before 9/11, the sharing of information amongst law enforcement agencies was quite limited, to say the least, and we have moved to more of a group effort in deterring human smuggling and human trafficking, as well as any terrorist activity in the United States.
  • Strategic assessments related to important aspects of human smuggling and trafficking in persons and clandestine terrorist travel. It’s understanding the trends and statistics that are happening right now, as they relate to homeland security and criminal justice.
  • Relevant to members of the community, the center may coordinate anti-smuggling or trafficking initiatives. That's helping all communities to understand the science of human trafficking within their respective community. Nobody knows a community better than individuals that live within that community. This closely relates to some community policing aspects that we'll discuss a little bit further.
  • Works with and exchanges information with allied foreign governments and organizations. Instead of closing the communication loop with other foreign agencies to decrease the supply and demand, we need to open a dialogue and provide for transparency among agencies and among foreign assets.


Human smuggling on the southwest border of the United States is a daily occurrence. It happens every day in the United States. The United States is the land of promise and opportunity. We offer the American dream, so this adds to the individuals wanting to come to the United States looking for that American dream.

Smugglers move humans as part of cargo transport, in vehicles, in boats, tractor trailers, box cars, trains and automobiles. Any way into the country, drug smugglers and human smugglers will use this outlet to bring people into this country.

Human smuggling and trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which victims are subject to force and fraud and coercion. We wouldn't think modern-day slavery existed in a wealthy nation such as the United States, but it does. As long as there is a demand for criminal activity, there will always be a supply. It's the supply and demand aspect that we are looking at here.

How many individuals are actually smuggled and trafficked into the United States yearly? The estimate is between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into United States according to U.S. State Department. These estimates include women, men and children; however, women and children make up the bulk of the human trafficking trade.

Many victims trafficked into the United States do not speak or understand English and are therefore isolated and unable to communicate with service providers, law enforcement officers and others who might be able to help them. Some of the service providers would include human services and public safety individuals, churches and other outreach groups.

How and Why Are Victims Trafficked?

How and why are victims trafficked? Let's look at three.

  • Forced trafficking involves the use of rape, beatings and confinement to control victims.
  • Fraud often involves false offers that induce people into trafficking situations. For example, women and children will reply to advertisements promising jobs as a waitress, as a maid, as a dancer in other countries, and they are then trafficked for purposes of prostitution once they arrive at their destination, with the U.S. being one of the top destinations for human trafficking.
  • Coercion involves threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint of, any person. It can be any plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform the act will result in serious harm. This obviously causes a high level of psychological manipulation on the obedient individual's act.


Once these individuals are here, we need to examine our resources to understand and help individuals of human trafficking. What are some resources? We have human services, we have churches, we have public safety individuals and community leaders.

Just because we don't see this happening does not mean it's not happening to communities. The community is our eyes and ears, referring back to the strong community-policing approaches that we'll talk about later.

Terrorist Travel Into the U.S.

How do we in criminal justice and homeland security prevent terrorist travel into the United States? This is a good question and one I want to look at a little bit further in this topic. As individuals who work in criminal justice and homeland security, it is in our best interest to combat terrorist travel into United States. As professors, students and professionals in the field, what are our options? We do have a few options, and we have done a pretty good job of preventing future terrorist travel into the United States. We're going to discuss some of these right now.

The U.S. has continued to identify and address vulnerabilities in our systems to prevent terrorists and their associates from entering the U.S. The U.S. government improved its capabilities to collect and analyze intelligence and law enforcement information to identify KSTs, known or suspected terrorists.

Again, sharing information is a critical component here. Intelligence gathering and sharing equals a strong prevention method. The most important component in preventing terrorists into the U.S. is intelligence sharing among local, state, federal as well as travel entities.

We also must emphasize public awareness, engagement and community partnerships through community-policing approaches. Individuals who have worked in law enforcement for a long time know what some of the community-policing approaches are, but I'm going to include some here. One is informing the community and keeping the community aware of what's going on. Practicing transparency with a community, with boots on the ground, getting out of the police cars and walking the streets again, disseminating critical information. The citizens need to know what is going on within the community. Holding town meetings is an example of a positive community-policing approach that deters terrorists traveling the United States.

Before Terrorists Attempt to Travel

What happens before individuals travel into the United States? For most foreign nationals arriving at U.S. airports, fingerprints, biometrics and photographs are captured by CBP officers, that's Customs Border Patrol agents. If the traveler is previously fingerprinted, either at the time of visa application or during previous trips to the United States, newly-captured fingerprints will be compared to the originals to ensure fingerprints match. This allows for real-time information.

The Department of Homeland Security is also looking at foreign airports through which individuals of known foreign terrorist organizations travel. An example of this would be in the UAE, United Arab Emirates, the DHS is located within the airport in Abu Dhabi. Individuals who wish to come into the United States must clear customs before they step onto the plane. This allows us to test individuals before they even step onto American soil.

So what is the watch list? Sometimes we hear about watch lists on TV and mass media. The watch list is a single database that contains sensitive national security and law enforcement information concerning the identities of those who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities. The TSC, Terrorist Screening Center, uses the watch list to support front-line screening agencies in positively identifying known or suspected terrorists who are attempting to obtain visas, enter the country, board an aircraft, or engage in other activities.

We discussed how the DHS is located at some foreign airports around the world to mitigate any issues of possible terrorist activity into our country. A lot of times, we will see this in the Middle East. However, in some airports such as in Japan, they do not clear until they enter the United States. In Abu Dhabi, they'll clear customs before they enter into the United States.

Terrorism and the Southern Border

Let's look at the threat to the U.S southern border as it relates to potential terrorist threats.

Is there a real threat as it relates to the southern border and terrorists coming into our southern border? Our federal courthouses and prisons are not filled with terrorists that were captured our border. Terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS try and incorporate ways to harm the United States, but they find other ways to do it. They motivate from within, not from without. They use the internet and other aspects of radicalization to recruit individuals.

With increases in our nation's security and the ability to detect potential terrorists before they enter our country, terrorist groups pivoted in recent years to a different business model, recruiting from within, not from without. Rather than focusing on trying to insert a terrorist operative from abroad, it has proven to be far easier for an organization and cheaper also, like ISIS and Al Qaeda, to inspire or motivate individuals already inside the U.S. to act on their behalf, which moves toward HVE, homegrown violent extremism, which is violent extremism and radicalization that starts to emanate within the United States and not abroad.

It's also important to note even though we're talking about al-Qaida and ISIS that radicalization and violent extremism is not religious by itself in nature. Radicalization and extremism can also be ideological or even political in nature.

Can potential terrorists cross our border via the southern or northern border? Yes, of course they can. We must be open to all possibilities if we wish to remain vigilant and deter. Limiting our scope would limit our ability to deter potential terrorist activity.

Is it a real threat? Yes. One threat is a real threat to the United States.

Is it a threat in relation to individuals crossing our southern border in large numbers? No, however, it only takes one individual to create a large-scale terrorist event. Even one is too many for our nation's security.


I really hope that you enjoyed the presentation on border patrol. It's just an overview of the scope of three issues that we are facing now as criminal justice and homeland security professionals, and I hope that you are able to take something away from the presentation. Now I will hand it back over to Dr. Misti Kill for closing remarks.

Dr. Misti Kill: Thank you Dr. Manzano and Dr. Mouras for your very thorough review of these major issues facing our nation's critical infrastructure today. And thank you to our participants for your time and attention this afternoon.

To continue reading Part 3 of the transcript, follow the link below:

Transcript, Part 3: Q&A

CSU offers a bachelor’s degree in information technology and cybersecurity, as well as a bachelor’s in homeland security. CSU also offers an associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice.