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The trial of El Chapo revealed more about America than the fight over a border wall

photo of joaquin "el chapo" guzman being escorted by soldiers
REUTERS/Tomas Bravo
Although Trump doesn’t names names, Guzmán must be atop the list of “bad hombres” the president rails about.

If President Trump wants to get a handle on a crisis in America by taking action at the Mexican border, he would do well to focus on the trial of a short, 60-something Mexican with a third-grade education. His name is Joaquín Guzmán.

Guzmán, of course, is better known as “El Chapo.” Although Trump doesn’t names names, Guzmán must be atop the list of “bad hombres” the president rails about. Guzmán’s long history of drug trafficking and brutality made him a wanted man on both sides of the border. His lavish lifestyle, daring prison escapes and subsequent ability to evade recapture made him the stuff of legend. Like Trump, his wealth earned him a spot on Forbes’ billionaires list.

Mexican authorities caught Guzmán, presumably for the last time, in 2016. This time they extradited him to the United States. His trial, in a federal court in New York on charges related to trafficking and money laundering, started in November, and would probably have gotten more attention if it hadn’t been proceeding on a parallel track with the drama in Washington over Trump’s demand for a border wall.

Guzmán’s case went to the jury last week, and deliberations pick up again on Monday. Meanwhile, congressional negotiations over funding for border security were reported to have broken down over the weekend, leaving the possibility of another government shutdown on Friday, when temporary funding runs out.

Trump cites migration, the flow of drugs and human trafficking as reasons for a wall. While nearly everyone agrees that the arrival of thousands of people, largely from Central America, at the border seeking safety and/or work is a serious problem, most also agree that it is something less than a crisis.

On the other hand, it’s widely understood that opioid addiction is a crisis. Overdoses killed more than 47,000 Americans in 2017.  This is a public health emergency so severe that it also is a drag on the economy and a matter of national security. Easy access to prescription drugs got people hooked on opioids. Now, cheap heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl are flooding the market.

Most of the heroin used in the United States is grown and processed in Mexico. Most of the fentanyl is manufactured in China and shipped through Mexico. Guzmán’s trial has laid out how drugs are transported into the United States. A border wall wouldn’t do much good.

Jesus Zambada Garcia, a high-ranking member of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, testified that tunnels long were the quickest, most secure route. The Washington Post reports that in its history, the Border Patrol has found 200 of them. The longest, connecting San Diego and Tijuana, was found in 2016. It was half a mile long, and equipped with ventilation, rails and electricity. In August, U.S. officials found another tunnel in San Luis, Arizona, and arrested the man who had plunked down $390,000 in cash for an abandoned KFC restaurant that served as its terminus. The Post said the man was in possession of more than $1 million worth of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl.

It quoted the local police chief as saying there already were two 20-foot border fences in the area, running 50 feet apart. Border agents patrolled a dirt path between them.

As tunnels became less of a sure thing, the witnesses testified that traffickers moved on to other methods. Trucks transiting legal border crossings were fitted with double bottoms, or the drugs were disguised in legitimate shipments. Mexican families were paid to hide drugs in special compartments built into cars. Some shipments went by sea – including by submersibles.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment says that only a “small percentage” of the heroin seized by U.S. officials is taken between official ports of entry. The majority is found in personal vehicles and tractor-trailers at official border crossings.

On Jan. 31, U.S. officials announced their biggest fentanyl bust — at an official border crossing. A truck entering the U.S. at Nogales, Arizona, loaded with cucumbers was hiding 254 pounds of the drug with an estimated value of $3.5 million. It also held 395 pounds of methamphetamine valued at $1.1 million.

To his credit, Trump has spoken out strongly against human trafficking. But the president has some odd ideas about what the problem actually is — citing women who are bound, have their mouths covered in tape and then smuggled into the United States in the backs of cars or trucks. Numerous fact checkers have found little to no evidence of this. Even then, Trump maintains that a border wall would fix the problem.

Advocates quoted in this New Yorker report cite Justice Department data suggesting that trafficking victims are primarily U.S. citizens. Most of the non-Americans they’re aware of arrive on valid visas, they say. The Trump administration, they charge, is making it more difficult for victims who come forward to remain in the country legally.

Building Trump’s “big, beautiful” border wall might satisfy the urge to do something bold and tangible. But that’s about it. The country does have a crisis on its hands: opioid addiction. Border security is part of the solution, and the money is far better spent where the drugs actually arrive.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/11/2019 - 10:02 am.

    The flow of illegal immigrants and products across our border follow the general rule of fluid dynamics; all things being equal, flow will follow the path of least resistance.

    They dig tunnels because our seismic detection is weak. They travel across ports of entry because staffing is low and technology is not in place. They cross barriers because they are old and unmaintained, and nearest large population centers that provide quick, easy concealment.

    Trump’s requests were created with input from our border enforcement professionals, and they address all of these things. More investment in people, technology and physical barriers.

    There is simply no reasonable argument anyone with the best interests of America can make against any of Trump’s (and DHS) recommendations.

    • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 02/11/2019 - 01:38 pm.

      Yes Curtis, there are many credible arguments one can make for the ‘best interests of America’ which Trump chooses to omit with his wall fetish.
      The u tube video “A 2000 mile journey” is one. Another is a 23 page archived special section of the Arizona Daily State (Tucson, 7/10/16) entitled ‘Beyond the Wall’ which provides border insight into each of the four states, Calif., Az., New Mexico, and Texas which encompass our border with Mexico.
      It’s all very clear and it is out there Curtis….all one has to do is look and think.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/11/2019 - 07:04 pm.

        OK I read your Arizona special report. As I suspected, it does nothing to dispute the effectiveness of the measures outlined in Trump’s request.

        Arizona border is too rugged to cross? Fine, we don’t need a wall there. Gun runners getting past border inspections? Right. We need more people and better technology.

        This article supports it all.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 02/12/2019 - 09:38 am.

          It’s hard to justify that much money when the country is running trillion dollars deficits. Unless you want to borrow it from China, or raise your taxes.

  2. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/11/2019 - 10:04 am.

    Hundreds of thousands of invaders crossing the border every year is a crisis. Dismissing that to focus only on the opioid issue makes this another fluff piece. It’s not a binary choice here…we can do many things at once….put up a barrier to stop all but the most determined from getting in, work on stopping the opioids from getting in , end much of the drug war, put e-verify in place etc etc.

    • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/11/2019 - 10:33 am.

      As of January 24th, the mob at the border has grown to 12,000.

      Most of these people will be refused entry, and Mexico has rescinded their offer of work visas. The leftist groups that financed the Northward flow have not offered to pay for the return trip, they are not offering solutions to the people stranded at the border, but they ARE financing new caravans.

      Again, the vast majority of these people will be refused entry into the United States. How can anyone doubt the crisis?

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 02/11/2019 - 01:42 pm.

        Just like flies to stink, the right-wing crowd can’t resist offering their opinion with a total absence of facts. How these two “men” can be afraid of an immigrant caravan attempting to legally claim asylum is beyond me. But that’s what the right has become, a fear of everything and spreading of conspiracy when the real conspiracy is the forces which assisted the president in the 2016 election.

        It’s hard to even start a proper factual rebuttal, the hypocrisy is so rife. First, the Chapo trial proves how unneffective a wall would be. It’s hard to see how you can claim to be a fiscal conservative while supporting such profligate spending. Second, our president has a long, such history of hiring illegal immigrants for his hotels. How you are not in revolt against this defies logic and reason.

        I can doubt this crisis based on immigration statistics. Illegal immigration is substantially lower than it was thirty years ago. But I must say, you two make excellent Republicans. You both believe, in an absence of critical thought, what a fraud and huckster tells you over Twitter.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/11/2019 - 10:08 am.

    Well Mark, most of us (non-Trumpies) know the tune, its called demagoguery, and comes out of the “Dictators Playbook”. When you think about it, its a way of smuggling, ignorance, prejudice etc. into parts of the American psyche under the guise of free speech and intellectual idea exchange!

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/12/2019 - 12:15 pm.

    Please be so kind as to explain in a logical and rational fashion why this is a crisis? Remember, we kill ~ 40,000 a year in gun violence, but according to the right wing that isn’t a crisis, nor are auto deaths that also approach ~ 40K a year. 12,000/325,000,000=.003% relative to the US population. Same math, if they all came to MN, extremely unlikely, ~ 2% Do you understand what the words hyperbole and demagoguery mean? Historians would probably refer to them as tools of fascism.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/12/2019 - 09:29 pm.

    This is supply side reasoning.
    As long as there is a demand for a product (opiates in this case) there will be a supply; a wall will not stop it.
    The answer is more knowledge (not moralizing) about the causes of drug use and addiction. We need more money spent on basic research, not the cuts made by the current administration.

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