U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Arizona is calling for more technology and more officers at the border to help combat the fentanyl crisis.
The Grand Canyon state shares 373 miles with Mexico and is home to six ports of entry. Guadalupe Ramirez, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection director of field operations, said roughly 10,000 passenger vehicles cross from Mexico into the U.S. every day along with hundreds of semitrucks transporting millions of dollars of produce.
Semitrucks and vehicles are inspected by officers, K-9s, and vehicle-scanning machines, but Ramirez points to outdated technology and a greater need for officers to detect drugs like fentanyl stashed in gas tanks and engines.
“Their mission is to get that product into the United States all the way into, you know, every state, every city,” Ramirez said. “Our job is to stop them, and the only way we can do that is that we have the resources.”
On Monday, CBP closed the Lukeville, Arizona port of entry until further notice in response to increased levels of migrant encounters along the southwest border. The officers were redirected to help border patrol agents process migrants.
In October, the Biden administration presented a $106 billion aid package to Congress that included $14 billion to help secure the border by hiring additional CBP officers and border patrol agents, adding asylum judges, new technology at the border, and funding to help combat the fentanyl crisis. The aid package has drawn scrutiny from Republican lawmakers who claim the money designated for the border does not do enough to bring an end to the migrant crisis.
“I hope that they understand that it's critical to provide the ports of entry with the technology and the resources that we need to continue this fight against fentanyl,” Ramirez said.
In fiscal year 2023, CBP seized 24,000 pounds of fentanyl along the southwest border, and 12,000 pounds were seized in Arizona alone, according to the latest CBP data — more than double the amount seized in the previous fiscal year.
“It doesn't seem to be stopping,” Ramirez said. “If it gets past us, there's very little stopping it.”
Danya Pairrett lost her 16-year-old daughter Hannah to fentanyl in 2019. She said her daughter took a counterfeit Percocet pill and less than an hour later she was unresponsive.
“The boyfriend came out of the room basically crying and saying that she's blue, her face is gray, her lips are blue, and he can't wake her up,” Pairrett recalled.
Pairrett said a toxicology report revealed there was fentanyl in Hannah Pairrett’s system.
“The Percocet actually didn't even have any Percocet in it because it didn't even show up in her system. It was pure fentanyl,” Pairrett said.
Pairrett said her daughter was an honor roll student who wanted to pursue a career as a nurse. She said she loved horses, animals, and helping people.
“She suggested that we raise money for this group who houses abused women and children,” Pairrett recounted.
Pairrett spent three years relentlessly seeking justice for her daughter. At the end of November, 29-year-old Michael Fox of Tucson was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to distribution of fentanyl.
“I wanted to go after him because he admitted that he knowingly gave her fentanyl, and so, he knew the risks of what could happen to her, that there was a chance that she could die from it,” Pairrett said.
In 2021, 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hannah Pairrett was an organ donor. Her heart helped save a life. A recording of her heartbeat now plays inside a teddy bear.
Pairrett launched a GoFundMe to help combat fentanyl and push for harsher sentencing for drug dealers selling the deadly drug.
“I think that we do need more funding at the border,” Pairrett said. “We've got to figure out a way to stop it from coming in."
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