The trouble is, the vast majority of the heroin and methamphetamine currently smuggled into the United States doesn’t enter between the openings, where Mr. Trump wants to build a wall. It passes through the openings. (Ed. note: The Entry Points)

Here is U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, testifying in March:

[T]he majority of any heroin that we seize is not between the ports of entry, it’s smuggled through the ports of entry, whether is in San Isidro or El Paso, or whether is at JFK airport. Heroin seizures almost predominantly are through the port of entry and either carried in a concealed part of a vehicle or carried by an individual. We don´t get much heroin seized by border patrol coming through, I think just because there are a lot of risks to the smugglers and the difficulty of trying to smuggle it through.


These drugs are easier for smugglers to move in vehicles, at official crossings, because they are so small in volume. “It’s a relatively small amount—40-50 tons, we think—of heroin that feeds the heroin epidemic in the United States,” Gen. John Kelly, at the time the commander of U.S. Southern Command, told a Senate committee in March 2015. That 40 or 50 tons of heroin—enough to supply the entire United States for an entire year—could fit into two standard shipping containers. In 2014, 864,000 cargo trucks carried containers through one port of entry (Ciudad Juárez-El Paso) alone.

Smugglers, then, don’t need to risk sending multi-ton shipments through the remote wilderness areas and ranchlands that currently lack border fencing. They can break up that 40 or 50 tons into thousands of tiny shipments hidden in vehicles, cargo conveyances, air passenger baggage, and even attached to, or within, smugglers’ bodies.

The only drug that passes between ports of entry in significant quantities is cannabis, which is larger and bulkier. However, seizures of northbound Mexican cannabis at the U.S.-Mexico border are declining fast—by 23.6 percent between 2013 and 2014—as some U.S. states choose to legalize or regulate the product. “Marijuana that is smuggled from Mexico is typically classified as ‘commercial-grade’ or ‘low-grade’ marijuana,” the DEA reports, while media have documented southbound trafficking of more potent U.S.-produced cannabis for the Mexican market.

This is not the case for the more “compact” drugs whose use is approaching epidemic proportions, like heroin, fentanyl, and meth. These pass mainly through land ports of entry.

As a result, it wouldn’t matter if a future U.S. leader built a mile-high wall along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Doing so would have little impact on the trafficking that occurs at the openings in the wall, the land ports of entry, through which tiny amounts routinely pass. (Ed. Note: Lots of “tiny amounts” add up quickly.)

—Paula Martínez, WOLA intern