80 Percent of Drug Busts on the Border Involved U.S. Citizens

PHOTO: drugs

The vast majority of drug busts by Border Patrol in recent years involved a U.S. citizen, bucking a public perception that couriers bringing drugs into the country are from south of the border, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

CIR found that three out of four people arrested with drugs along the U.S.-Mexico border were U.S. citizens. The center also found that four of every five busts -- 80 percent -- involved at least one U.S. citizen.

That contradicts the message that Border Patrol has been putting forward in their press releases, according to CIR:

There's no argument that Mexico-based crime organizations dominate drug smuggling into the United States. But the public message that the Border Patrol has trumpeted for much of the last decade, mainly through press releases about its seizures, has emphasized Mexican drug couriers, or mules, as those largely responsible for transporting drugs.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol, told CIR that the agency issues news releases to draw attention to "noteworthy seizures," which might involve suspects hiding drugs in an unusual way or carrying a large load.

The center looked at an extensive set of records -- 81,261 drug seizures between 2005 and 2011 -- but the numbers don't tell the whole story. In about half of those cases, Border Patrol agents didn't catch anyone and the drugs were abandoned, according to the report, so we don't know the identity of those smugglers. But arrests were made in more than 40,000 drug seizures over that time period, and a U.S. citizen was involved 80 percent of the time.

The data could help inform politicians working on immigration reform in the House and Senate. If U.S. citizens account for the majority of drug arrests by Border Patrol, the architects of an immigration bill may want to consider a border security strategy that takes that into account, perhaps by investing more in monitoring legal ports of entry.

The drug arrests largely involve pot. Pound-for-pound, marijuana accounted for 95 percent of the drugs seized by Border Patrol in 2011.

While the agency has focused resources on policing marijuana, polls have shown that support for marijuana legalization continues to rise. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in November 2012 found that 48 percent favored legalization and 50 percent opposed.

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