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Nogales ports see rise in trade and narcotics

Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales
Posted at 12:41 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 15:41:46-04

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN) — Customs and Border Protection recently gave KGUN 9 an all-access tour of the Mariposa Port of Entry.

Mariposa is one of dozens of ports run by CBP along the southwest border.

"We collect about $230 million in taxes and duties for the U.S. Treasury budget a day," said Nogales Port Director Michael Humphries.

Only the IRS brings in more money to the treasury according to Humphries.

While you will find busier ports of entry in California and Texas, truck and rail traffic through the Nogales ports are increasing.

Trucks entering Mariposa Port

So is the commitment to international trade through Nogales. Construction is ahead of schedule on the $134 million dollar project connecting the Mariposa Port of Entry to I-19 with two flyover ramps.

Humphries acknowledges that while trade is increasing through his ports, so are the drugs being smuggled.

That puts the Mariposa and Deconcini Ports of Entry among the busiest for drug seizures along the southwest border.

"The cartel south of here is very, very active at this time," Humphries said. "Fentanyl is really, really increased. Especially in the last year. I believe we're up over 168% on fentanyl. Most of them are counterfeit tablets."

Humphries says he's proud of his officers efforts to stop drug traffickers.

In the 18 hours before our visit, his offers thwarted three different attempts to smuggle drugs into the U.S. in a passenger car, a commercial truck and in a rail car.

Border seizure April 20 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fentanyl, meth, cocaine and heroin was seized.

Humphries started our all-access tour where they inspect cars and buses entering from Mexico.

"You can't stop every vehicle and inspect every vehicle because the lines would be 10s of miles back," explained Humphries."

He does not no exactly how many drug shipments actually get through, but he commends his officers for their efforts.

"Our officers do very, very well. Like I told you, in the last 18 hours they've gotten three significant narcotics seizures. They're keen on peoples behavior, anomalies with vehicles, they use K-9s. We have specialized team members specializing in compartment detection.

"They're finding narcotics in spare tires of vehicles, front and car bumpers, we're talking in the transmission, the transaxles, in the engine even we've gotten narcotics. Seats, gas tanks, anywhere there's a void in the vehicle we've probably seen it used."

Next, we go above the personal vehicle lanes to see the inspections continue. That includes cars and pickups going into Mexico.

Agents are looking for drug money going back down to the cartels, along with weapons and ammo.

In May, officers seized this high powered machine gun from crossing into Mexico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection gun seizure

Most days at the Mariposa Port of Entry you'll see long lines of semis carrying fruits and vegetables and other goods from Mexico into the U.S.

Whether it's a big rig or a compact car, CBP officers check documents and look for anything suspicious.

"They're interacting with the traveler in front of them," said Humphries. "What are they doing? Do they have the death grip on the steering wheel. Is that carotid artery going. Are they failing to make eye contact. There's so much."

On the truck side of the Mariposa Port, some of the semis are selected for secondary inspection.

"Some get backed up to the dock, others don't," Humphries explained. "Depends on the commodity if the officer saw anything."

"There's some that have to come out for one reason or another. High risk of some kind of pest or something. Others are sent in for maybe narcotics exam. Sometimes the officer, just intuition, something doesn't feel right. They'll send it on over here for an exam."

The loading dock is where you see the heavy commerce of the Mariposa Port of Entry.

"Yesterday we had over 1,900 trucks," said Humphries. "That represents tens of millions of dollars going north."

Humphries explained that these trucks off-load their goods at warehouses up and down Interstate 19 in Nogales.

Truck inspection at Mariposa Port of Entry

"Trucks that are waiting there to load up and go north to New York, Seattle, California, San Francisco, Chicago," Humphries said. "They're going to take it wide and far throughout the U.S."

I asked Humphries about the future of the Nogales ports.

"I see more trade coming in, I see more jobs coming in, I see more officers and agriculture specialists coming in. I see the community, the whole community prospering from this. From local businesses to even the chains. You see it coming, it's on the horizon."

Humphries says he and his agents are ready.

"We're ready for it, absolutely."