AG Mayes ‘shocked’ Nogales border crossing scanners still sitting in warehouse due to lack of funding

Paul Ingram
11 Min Read

Attorney General Kris Mayes pushed Congress to fund installing scanners at Arizona’s border crossings following a report the equipment was sitting unused in a warehouse in Nogales.

Last year, a White House official told reporters the Biden administration would add more non-intrusive scanners at ports of entry in Nogales as part of a wider effort to tamp down on fentanyl smuggling, but the collapse of a bipartisan border bill in February has kept federal officials from installing the inspection technology.

The scanners were planned to be part of a “layered approach” to intercept narcotics along the border.

Troy Miller,  the acting commissioner of CBP, took NBC News on a tour of the Nogales port of entry last week and said the agency purchased scanners to detect drugs and other contraband in vehicles, but still needed $300 million to install them. 

“We do have technology that’s in the warehouse that has been tested. But we need approximately $300 million (to) actually put the technology in the ground,” Miller told NBC News. “It’s extremely frustrating.”

The agency already has some scanners used to quickly
scrutinize cars and trucks. Vehicles with “anomalies” are sent to an
additional inspection area, where federal officials can interview drivers and passengers and dig through vehicles. CBP said the systems allow officers to
“screen or examine a larger portion of the stream of commercial traffic
while facilitating the flow of legitimate trade, cargo, and passengers.”

In a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, Mayes said she
was “shocked” by NBC’s report that the scanners sit unused because “Congress has failed to provide funding to install the equipment.”

Arizona in the midst of a fentanyl crisis, this inaction is
irresponsible and negligent at best,” she wrote. “As the attorney general of Arizona, I am using the authority of my office to protect its
citizens from the fentanyl epidemic, and I expect the same from
Congress. I am calling on you to set aside politics and work with your
colleagues to fund the installation of this critical technology.” 

The elected Democrat said last year she was “relieved” when Vice President Kamala Harris
told her the Biden administration budgeted $305 million to fund the
scanners to intercept fentanyl.

“Today, United States
taxpayers have already paid millions of dollars to purchase high-tech
scanners that will help locate fentanyl hidden in vehicles,” she wrote.
“But those scanners are currently sitting unused in a warehouse because congressional Republicans are blocking the funding necessary to install
them. Funding these items is unquestionably needed.” 

“Failing to
do so will allow deadly fentanyl to continue entering Arizona to be
distributed to the rest of the United States. Inaction will sadly lead
to more unnecessary fentanyl overdose deaths,'” she said.

Last year, the Biden administration moved to expand the use of non-intrusive inspection technology to x-ray cars and trucks as they pass through U.S. border crossings to intercept fentanyl and other drugs. While the equipment was purchased, many of them haven’t come on line because the funding to install them was part of the failed Border Act of 2024, NBC News reported.

The bill included $425 million for the scanners, as well as $170 million for autonomous surveillance towers, $47 million for mobile surveillance systems, $25 million for sensors to detect tunnels, $7.5 million to expand communications for Border Patrol,  and $10 million to improve the use of drones along the coasts.

For months, Sen. Sinema worked with Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma and Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, to negotiate a new immigration bill with the White House. In early February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released the $118.28 billion bipartisan bill, which included military aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as the long-awaited border measures.

However, despite widespread support the bill ran aground after ex-president Donald Trump said he was against the bill and House Speaker Mike Johnson declared it “dead on arrival.” 

“The failure of Congress to fund the installation of this much-needed
technology is irresponsible and negligent,” Mayes said in a statement.
“Congress needs to get its act together and fast because Arizona lives
are at risk. My office will continue to fight the drug cartels
aggressively, but we need our elected representatives to step up and do
their part to protect our communities, too.”

Since October, CBP
officials in Arizona have intercepted around 4,100 pounds of fentanyl,
nearly 84 percent of which was seized at the ports. Michael Humphries, the director of the Port of Nogales announced Thursday his officers discovered nearly 226,000 fentanyl pills during two separate incidents in February.

Mayes noted that since 2022 nearly half of the fentanyl seized in the U.S. was intercepted in Arizona.

of the actions of the Mexican drug cartels, Arizona now serves as the
fentanyl funnel for the rest of the nation,” Mayes said. “This
devastating public health crisis has wrecked communities, harmed
families, and pushed drug overdose deaths to astronomical heights. It is
ridiculous that technology that would help prevent the flow of this
drug into our country sits unused because of Congressional inaction.”

Mayes sent her letter U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, as
well as the U.S. House Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Juan Ciscomani — who represent
the two districts that cover the borderlands.

Grijalva and Ciscomani said they would vote against the Border Act, but for different reasons. 

Grijalva said the Senate “missed an opportunity to create thoughtful and lasting immigration reform and to confront and humanely manage our humanitarian crisis at the border. Instead, the bill doubles down on punitive measures that read like an extreme Republican wish list filled with failed Trump-era immigration policies.”

Ciscomani said the U.S. needed a “much tougher approach.” 

“In order to vote on an issue of this consequence, I need to know that it’s going to prioritize border communities like mine, and this bill falls short of doing so,” he said.

White House moves to intercept fentanyl

Last year, the Biden administration announced it would seek $305 million to install more vehicle scanners at border crossings to help CBP intercept fentanyl, with the goal of adding 123 new large-scale scanners at border crossings by September 2026. This would increase the number of scanned personal vehicles from just 2 percent to 40 percent, while expanding the number of cargo vehicles from 17 percent to 70 percent, CBP said.

During a press conference at the Mariposa Port of Entry in 2023, Dr. Rahul Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, touted efforts to blunt the influx of fentanyl across the U.S.-Mexico border, including law enforcement operations targeting fentanyl smuggling and production.

Over 90 percent of the fentanyl came through official border crossings, Gupta said. For years, “hard drugs” like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine were largely intercepted at the ports of entry, while marijuana was smuggled through the desert.

The Biden administration sought $6.1 for drug control—a $2.3 billion increase from a year earlier—including nearly $535 million for CBP “border technology” including millions for “non intrusive” technology. “This is advanced technology that is technology in the 21st century. That is working for the American people,” Gupta said.

CBP officers in Nogales have “done a tremendous job” and evaluate at least 1,000 commercial trucks every day, though at peak times this rises to 2,000 per day, Gupta told reporters. He added the technology allows CBP officers to inspect vehicles coming and going into the U.S. while “protecting American lives.”

“The work that is being done by the brave folks here is the difference between life and death of Americans across the country,” Gupta said.

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Paul Ingram ,
Local news | , 2024-03-08 23:32:24
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