Coronavirus dramatically changed the way commerce is conducted across our southern border. Non-essential travel has been halted for a year. But commercial traffic never stopped, and neither did the illicit drug and human trafficking. I recently got a briefing from Michael Humphries, Director of the Nogales, Arizona Port of Entry.
Sharyl: So I guess you can kind of describe the area we are about to enter here?
Michael Humphries: We're entering into the secondary area here. Vehicles up here are getting the first look at. We try to get several looks at all vehicles coming through. So vehicle gets released. If it's not referred, it'll come through here. We’ve got our K9, we've got our contraband enforcement team who specialize in detecting narcotics.
Sharyl: What are the big changes that have happened here since coronavirus?
Humphries: So, a lot of people are nervous over it. There's been some travel restrictions put into play. We're going on about a year now. Essential travelers are allowed in, but those on a traveler visa or a tourist visa coming in for pleasure are not allowed to come in at this time.
Sharyl: And how has that impacted the traffic that you process on a daily basis that the for pleasure travelers can't come in?
Humphries: So traffic is down approximately 55% from a year ago.
Sharyl: What is the impact of coronavirus, as far as you can tell, on the illegal movement of drugs that you pick up? Have you seen a difference in the kind of drugs being moved and how it's being moved here?
Humphries: A few years back, we shifted to more hard narcotics than marijuana. And then in the last year we've seen an uptick in people carrying narcotics on, or within, inside their bodies.
Sharyl: Why do you think that is?
Humphries: The smugglers that the organizations hire, that pool has shrunk, because a lot of their smugglers had visitor visas who are not allowed to cross now. So they have to go more for the lawful admitted permanent residents and the US citizens.
Sharyl: So they're recruiting more US citizens?
Humphries: Yes. And legal permanent residents, as well.
Sharyl: Coronavirus aside, what are some of the trends overall in recent years, and what's being moved across the border in terms of either human smuggling, or what kinds of drugs?
Humphries: Yeah, so we've seen, five years ago, we really never heard of fentanyl for other than for medical usage. And five years ago, we probably seized less than a half a pound of fentanyl. This past year, we seized about three and a half million fentanyl tablets. So one of the most dangerous opioids out there.
Sharyl: That's at this one port?
Humphries: That's just at this one port. Another dangerous opioid is heroin. And we seized over a thousand pounds of heroin as well. So preventing that from reaching the interior cities and states of America is a high priority.
Sharyl (on-camera): The federal government estimates that about $30 billion worth of legal goods cross between the U.S. and Mexico at the Nogales Port of Entry each year.