Watch CBS News

Concealed bundles, sophisticated tunnels: How fentanyl crosses the U.S.-Mexico border

Fentanyl flow into the United States
How fentanyl is trafficked directly into the United States 06:07

There are new battles at the U.S.-Mexico border over the most dangerous narcotic law enforcement has ever seen. With help from technology, authorities there are working to curb the flow of fentanyl into the United States through extensive searches.

Sixty percent of all fentanyl seized in the United States is found at U.S-Mexico border crossings in Southern California, according to Mariza Marin, who is port director at the San Ysidro Port of Entry between San Diego and Tijuana. 

More than 65,000 vehicles cross the San Ysidro Port of Entry every day. Marin said they first saw fentanyl in 2008, and that it has skyrocketed since fiscal year 2019. 

To search for drugs, border patrol agents use non-intrusive inspection technology that enables agents to scan as drivers pass through. 

"We're looking for packages concealed within that vehicle," Marin told CBS News. 

Drug packages can be concealed in different areas, including in gas tanks. A fentanyl package can be about the size of brick, and contain a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of fentanyl, according to Marin.

Assisted by trained canines, border patrol agents can search thousands of vehicles a day. 

They aren't just looking at where smugglers can hide the drugs, but also who can carry them. A trend of using minors at the point of entry has increased in the past few months. Marin said minors who come from "less economic means" are targeted in high schools and junior highs.

"These smuggling organizations are offering them for them what seems is a lot of money — $500, $1000. And tell them to put this in your pocket, put this in your backpack, and cross the border with it," she said. 

Tunnels are also used to smuggle drugs into the United States. Earlier this year, a Homeland Security investigation uncovered a highly advanced tunnel stretching 1,700 feet from Tijuana, Mexico, to Otay Mesa, California.

That tunnel had electricity and small train tracks. Authorities have no idea how long it was in operation, who was running it, and how many others like it may be left. 

Marin said even a small portion of fentanyl can impact a community. While it is impossible to find every piece of fentanyl that crosses the border, Marin hopes the use of modern technology and increasing enforcement efforts will help. 

"It's really the effort to leverage both technology, officer instincts, training and intelligence to really, really deter some of this illicit activity," she said. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.