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New anti-fentanyl operation’s first target is Nogales

CBP, DEA and Homeland Security Investigations are going after cartel smuggling networks and territory
Posted at 7:41 PM, Apr 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-11 11:40:59-04

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN) — Last fiscal year, Customs and Border Protection seized more than 27,000 pounds of fentanyl nationwide, almost double the year before. And nearly half of that fentanyl—44%—is seized at ports of entry in Nogales, according to CBP.

Just last month, CBP seized more than a million fentanyl pills at Nogales ports over just four days.

Nogales is the first focus for ‘Operation Plaza Spike.’ CBP, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations are working together to target cartel territories known as ‘plazas,’ and their leaders or ‘bosses.’

Sergio Valenzuela Valenzuela, also known as “Bio,” is the Nogales Plaza boss and a top target for the operation.

“This is a fight we take personally, and one we simply will not lose,” acting CBP commissioner Troy Miller told reporters outside the DeConcini Port of Entry on Wednesday.

“[A plaza] is a natural chokepoint within the smuggling networks that occur at U.S. ports of entry and between,” he said.

CBP has been working with other agencies and the Mexican government for years to learn the fentanyl supply chain. Officials say this operation will take that a step forward, following other successful anti-fentanyl operations along the Southwest border.

“We wanted to elevate that strategy to start to deny access of the narcotics into the U.S. by taking out those plazas, the logistics, the transport, the precursors, and the weapons going Southbound,” said Miller. “So it’s about putting the pieces together, identifying those chokepoints and going after those chokepoints where it makes sense.”

“HSI, DEA… They will share that information with us so we can do our jobs better,” said Nogales Port Director Michael Humphries. “We’re gonna continue to stop the narcotics from coming in.”

Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) scanners, which search for narcotics being smuggled, are being used on some cars and cargo in Nogales.

But last month, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes urged Congress to provide funding to install more of those scanners as some sit unused.

Miller said Wednesday CBP had received funds this year to expand its NII footprint along the Southwest border.

“We have non-intrusive technology at all of our ports of entry. We are screening. What we’re trying to do is screen more,” he said. “And we will continue to look at technology, deploy it, as funds become available.”

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.