Fentanyl seizures at the border continue to shatter records in 2022

Fentanyl seizures at the U.S. border with Mexico have continued to surge in 2022, with multiple busts setting different records throughout the year.

“A decade ago, we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a press release in August. “The amount of fentanyl we are seizing at the border is staggering.”

Grossman’s comments came as the Justice Department revealed that ports of entry in San Diego and Imperial counties in Southern California were at the center of a surge in fentanyl seizures at the border, accounting for roughly 60% of seizures of the deadly drug in 2022.

However, that rise has been seen at ports across the border, with law enforcement agencies on both the Mexican and American sides making record-setting busts in 2022. Here are just a few of the border fentanyl busts that made headlines in 2022.

Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez announced earlier this month that Border Patrol agents in the sector had made the “largest” bust of liquid fentanyl in U.S. history.

“Fentanyl Bust!!! Extremely proud of our USBP agents & @NuecesCoSo [Nueces County Sheriff’s Office] authorities who worked together, interdicted, & seized largest amount of liquid #fentanyl in the history of the USA from a traffic stop in Robstown, Texas,” Chavez said on Twitter.

Chavez detailed the bust in subsequent posts, saying that agents found 25 pounds, or three gallons, of liquid fentanyl hidden in a compartment within a gas tank and that the street value of the seizure was $1.8 million.

“This lethal amount is enough to kill a population of 5.665 million people which is 2 1/2 times the size of Houston, Texas,” Chavez added.

Border officers at Arizona’s Nogales Port of Entry seized 1.5 million fentanyl pills in a single week, according to an announcement by Port Director Michael Humphries earlier this month.

“Pills included blue, multi-colored, and rainbow colored,” Humphries said on Twitter.

Humphries said that smugglers attempted a variety of ways to hide the pills while crossing the border, including concealing them in gas tanks, floors, doors and vehicle panels. 

The same Arizona port that saw over a million pills in one week set an even faster pace on a weekend in October, seizing roughly 500,000 fentanyl pills in two days.

Humphries announced on Twitter that agents at the port stopped three loads of fentanyl Oct. 22, including one load with 114,800 pills in a dashboard and 297,000 pills hidden in a single car.

Agents were back at it the next day when they stopped two loads of fentanyl pills from smugglers attempting to get across the border, including 134,200 pills found in the rocker panels of a car.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced in October that Carlos Martin Quintana-Arias, a Mexican national, had been sentenced to 108 months in prison after agents made a record-setting fentanyl and methamphetamine bust at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California.

“This was a brazen attempt to smuggle a record amount of deadly narcotics into our country, and as this sentencing reflects, those persons looking to make a quick profit from narcotics smuggling will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” Chad Plantz, special agent in charge, HSI San Diego, said in an ICE press release announcing the sentence. “HSI, along with our federal and local partners, is firmly committed to dismantling criminal organizations who blatantly ignore the laws of this nation.”

According to the press release, Quintana-Arias used a commercial trailer in an attempt to smuggle 17,584 pounds of methamphetamine and 388.93 pounds of fentanyl across the border, the “nation’s largest in each drug category for the calendar years 2021 and 2022 so far.”

“This massive seizure prevented a huge quantity of deadly drugs from saturating our community,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in the release. “Because of the vigilance of border officials, this fentanyl did not kill anyone, and this meth did not destroy even one life.”

Mexican police, making a traffic stop in the northern border state of Sonora, found 660 pounds of fentanyl stuffed into coconuts they believe was bound for the U.S. border.

The officers stopped the truck traveling on a highway that runs along the Gulf of California. That road eventually leads to the Mexican town of Sonoyta, a border town located near Lukeville, Arizona.

Two people were arrested in connection with the bust.

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