• ITVI.USA
    15,839.740
    -5.440
    0%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.799
    -0.007
    -0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    22.070
    0.480
    2.2%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,836.590
    -10.170
    -0.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.950
    -0.570
    -16.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.610
    0.650
    22%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.370
    -0.240
    -14.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.550
    0.210
    6.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.320
    0.220
    10.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.110
    0.250
    6.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    0.000
    0%
  • ITVI.USA
    15,839.740
    -5.440
    0%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.799
    -0.007
    -0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    22.070
    0.480
    2.2%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,836.590
    -10.170
    -0.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.950
    -0.570
    -16.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.610
    0.650
    22%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.370
    -0.240
    -14.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.550
    0.210
    6.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.320
    0.220
    10.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.110
    0.250
    6.5%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    0.000
    0%
American ShipperShippingTrade and Compliance

Skyrocketing opioid seizures strain Customs

President Trump is asking for budget increases of more than $1.6 billion to combat explosive growth of drug smuggling.

   Officials from Customs Border and Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) described to members of Congress the challenges they are facing from the rapid growth in international e-commerce and the ability of buyers and sellers of drugs such as Fentanyl to use
the “dark web” and cryptocurrencies to transact business.
    CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said there has been a five-fold increase in shipments moving through
international mail and express facilities in the past six year years,
with, for example, 1 million parcels a day handled at the mail
facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
   McAleenan, along with Matthew T. Albence, executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations at ICE, and Derek N. Benner, executive associate director for homeland security investigations at ICE, testified about their agencies’ budgets before the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday.
    John Carter, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee, said the president’s budget request for 2019 for CBP is $14.2 billion, an increase of $218 million over the amount provided this year, while the request for ICE is $8.8 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion.
    The hearing was dominated by questions about the $1.6 billion in the CBP budget for new physical barriers, including President Trump’s much discussed wall along the Mexican border and the prevention of illegal immigration.
    Several congressmen questioned if priorities in the budget made sense.
    C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said there is a need for more CBP officers, but added President Trump is “more interested in intercepting people than drugs, and I think that is wrong.”
    Despite the addition of funding for 328 officers in the omnibus spending bill this year, there is a nationwide shortage of 2,200 CBP officers, Ruppersberger said, pointing out that his district includes the Port of Baltimore and that it is “consistently short CBP officers.”
   “Shippers are being asked to compensate CBP for the cost of additional overtime shifts. Furthermore, these officers stationed in Baltimore are already working excessive overtime, and this is surely impacting the flow of commerce and compromising security throughout the whole country in our ports,” he said.
    Ruppersberger said Baltimore is not an outlier and pointed to shortages of CBP officers in Laredo, Texas; Tuscon, Ariz.; and San Diego.
   “Does the administration recognize drugs are moving into this country through our official ports of entry, not just between them? If so, why does the president’s budget proposal request funding for only 60 CBP hires with none assigned to ports?” he asked.
    McAleenan said CBP is seeking increased immigration and custom user fees to fund more officers. He said just a $1 increase would have a significant benefit for additional hiring.
    Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said most illegal drugs come through ports of entry and 40 percent of illegal immigrants come to the United States with legal visas.
    “Even if you put up the highest wall or fence, they are either going to drive … or fly on an airplane or come in by ship,” Cuellar said. “We have to look at this comprehensively and not think the wall, which is a 14th century solution … is the magical bullet.”
    He thought a border wall was too expensive and the money could be better spent on such technology as sensors, cameras and aerostats (balloons or airships) or hiring and retaining personnel.
    Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., wanted to know how CBP will use $224 million for opioid and nonintrusive inspection equipment and what investments in technology the agency will prioritize.
    CBP seizures of Fentanyl and other opioids have skyrocketed in recent years from an estimated 2.4 pounds in fiscal year 2013 to 71,195 pounds in FY 2017.
    McAleenan said the money will be used to fund equipment to detect drugs in vehicles and small packages.
    He said the agency wants “to increase the fidelity with which we can detect concealed narcotics in vehicles and small packages” as well as test it carefully to protect employees and then prioritizing “controlled deliveries” with law enforcement officials to arrest those receiving the illegal drugs.
    He also said that CBP has been partnering with the U.S. Postal Service to increase the amount of information they get on mail parcels from under 10 percent a year and a half ago to more than 65 percent. He said that has allowed CBP to “triple Fentanyl seizures in the mail environment.” He also attributed it to USPS engagement with China, the principal source of Fentanyl, McAleenan said.
    Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who is an anesthesiologist, underlined the extreme potency and danger of the drug. After Benner described how seizures of Fentanyl alone had increased from 69 pounds in FY 2015 to 2,400 pounds in FY 2017, Harris did a quick calculation and asserted that because a quarter of a milligram can kill a person if administered intravenously, the 2,400 pounds was enough Fentanyl to kill 4 billion people.
    “You are the thin blue line that helps separate us from that,” Harris said.
    Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., also expressed concern that CBP is “critically understaffed and remains well below its congressionally mandated staffing levels by about 1,000 CBP officers and nearly 2,000 Border Patrol agents” and asked if private-sector security and screening experts could be used to perform “day-to-day scanning and screening functions and image analysis, which would free up your officers to concentrate on their law enforcement and oversight missions.”
    McAleenan said CBP has hired an 200 additional officers and expects to hire more this year and is already “leveraging private-sector assets for functions like effectively reviewing scans from nonintrusive inspection technology.”
    Palazzo also asked about the CBP’s role in trade facilitation, saying shrimping and lumber are important industries in his district and that there are many companies that attempt to get around antidumping and countervailing duties by operating shell companies. They “dump their goods into the U.S. before disappearing and reinventing themselves down the road,” he said.
    McAleenan said CBP collects a vast amount of data at the border and its Automated Commercial Environment “presents a great opportunity to use advanced techniques, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to look at that vast array of data to train it to identify fraudulent practices and address it more aggressively.”

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.

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