COVID-19 restrictions affected every market, and that includes the black one. As the border closed to Mexican citizens, U.S. citizens started getting arrested seven times more often for attempted drug smuggling. Between October 2020 and March, around 2,400 U.S. citizens were arrested for attempting to smuggle drugs across the border in their cars. In that same time period, only 361 Mexicans were arrested for the same crime.
These numbers come from Customs and Border Protection data, according to the Washington Post.
COVID-19 restrictions merely changed how drugs were entering the U.S. Lockdowns certainly didn’t slow down drugs from entering the U.S., the largest market for illicit substances in the world. In fact, CBP saw a slight uptick in seizures, taking around 92,000 pounds of drugs just from cars at the southern border during that brief six-month period.
The increase in Americans arrested for the crime is tired directly to COVID-19 safety protocols, according to WaPo:
“As cross-border travel shifted to essential travel only, criminal organizations shifted their operations as well,” the agency said in a recent statement. It noted it’s increasingly seized drugs trafficked by U.S. citizens and by commercial trucks during the pandemic. Both groups are exempt from the restrictions at U.S. land borders.
“The perception is that U.S. citizens are given less scrutiny by Border Patrol and CBP,” said Michael Corbett, who worked at the Drug Enforcement Administration for 30 years and is now a narcotics expert witness. “Smuggling drugs is a risk management enterprise. They’re looking for whatever methods they can come across to most safely and efficiently move drugs across the border.”
Victor Manjarrez, a former Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso and Tucson, said “the use of American citizens kind of ebbs and flows.
“Drug organizations … are much more adept at changing than the government is,” said Manjarrez, now a professor of border and national security at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Mexican nationals were severely limited from entering the U.S. due to COVID lockdowns. Americans, by contrast, were able to cross more frequently, and were subject to less scrutiny by Mexican border agents, making them the perfect runners for drug cartels. Law enforcement officials told WaPo that this lopsided enforcement is what has led to the sharp increase in American smugglers, though U.S. citizens have always played a role in getting drugs to consumers in the states. In non-COVID years the arrest rates of the two nationalities are roughly similar.