Coast Guard stops packages from entering the country. (Credit: CBS)
Coast Guard stops packages from entering the country. (Credit: CBS)

Drug smugglers turn to Florida as an easier alternative to Mexican border

With the increase of security at the southern border with Mexico, experts say drug smugglers will look for other ways to get their product into the U.S.

Drug smugglers have already been moving large amounts of drugs through Florida, it’s easy to do because of our wide-open border.

However, CBS12 News Investigates found with heightened security at the southern border, the drug trafficking problem in Florida is expected to get worse as smugglers seek out new, less risky routes of bringing drugs into the U.S.

CRACK DOWN ON THE SOUTHERN BORDER WITH MEXICO

When it comes to securing the southern border with Mexico, Homeland Security, said Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in its 88-year history.

There, they have more razor wire fencing, “boots on the ground,” as well as unprecedented attention and resources.

According to Customs and Border Protection, the security measures are working.

Their latest busts include more than $2 million worth of meth seized at a checkpoint in the Rio Grande Valley in May and nearly $4.6 million worth of fentanyl and meth seized in January at the Port of Nogales in Arizona.

WHY FLORIDA’S BORDER IS AN ATTRACTIVE OPTION FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS

Much less attention is being paid to Florida’s border.

With so many resources going to southern border security, much less is coming to this state, leaving Florida exposed.

It is surrounded by 1,200 miles of coastline and smuggling drugs into the U.S. by boat is the prime way of getting around the heavily guarded southern border.

“We really can’t secure this border,” said Lisa Ruth, a former CIA officer who specializes in intelligence and security. “I anticipate that we will see more guns, more drugs, more human trafficking and illegal immigrants coming through. It’s just such a well-established transit route that we are going to see those coming back again and they already have started.”

The Department of Homeland Security said they increased the number of “boots on the ground” on the border with Mexico to 18,500 Border Patrol agents.

That is more than double what they had 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, Florida only has 130 border patrol agents guarding its entire coastline.

“You look out here, where are you going to have a police presence? You’re talking about miles and miles and miles of coastline,” said Ruth as she walked along Ocean Reef Park in West Palm Beach.

Illegal migrants often use Ocean Reef Park and other nearby beaches to make their illegal entries into the U.S.

FEDERAL BORDER PROTECTION AGENCIES WORKING TOGETHER TO STOP CONTRABAND

Three federal agencies work hand-in-hand to guard Florida: the U.S. Coast Guard, Air and Marine Operations of CBP and Border Patrol.

“We see people. We see narcotics. Cocaine. We see marijuana,” said Florida-based Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Peter Daniel. “We see any type of contraband that they can bring in unlawfully into the U.S. because this is the border.”

Border Patrol stops smuggling attempts from land.

There counterpart, Air and Marine Operations works to stop smugglers before they ever reach the shore.

They recently received a new speed boat used for chasing down smugglers on across dangerous waters.

Alejandro Rodriguez, Marine Interdiction Agent for Air and Marine Operations of CBP, said that one boat cost about $1 million dollars.

However, to keep drugs out of Florida, they said they need all the resources they can get.

CBS12 News rode along with Rodriguez and his crew while they looked for threats on the water.

“We’re looking for vessels coming in from foreign, vessels that could possibly be defrauding, smuggling money outbound, smuggling narcotics or goods inbound,” he said. “Anything that’s going to defraud the United States.”

The U.S. Coast Guard also patrols our wide open borders.

CBS12 News joined them for an exclusive overnight ride and a firsthand look at how difficult it is to patrol such a large area.

Lt. Joshua Tucker and his crew looked for boats that might be carrying drugs and other contraband coming in from the Bahamas.

“The vessels that are up to nefarious actives will actually blend in with normal recreational boating traffic,” he said.

In February, an innocent looking boat was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard carrying 128 pounds of cocaine about five miles East of Haulover Inlet near Miami.

So far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard stopped about 90.7 tons of cocaine valued at $2.5 billion dollars from entering the U.S. and in 2018, they stopped about 230 tons of cocaine worth about $6.2 billion.

But with it being harder for smugglers to get drugs through the southern border with Mexico, more will come to Florida making a hard job even harder.

In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Homeland Security’s $85 million grant, called “Operation Stonegarden,” gave 73 percent of that money to just four states, the states along the southern border with Mexico.

Author: CBS
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