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As fentanyl slips through Nogales, officials try new techniques


On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Agency said “fentanyl is the greatest and most urgent drug threat” in America.

NOGALES, Ariz. — Federal and city officials in Nogales said they’re using new resources and approaches to tackle a growing crisis spilling across the border.

On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Agency said ‘fentanyl is the greatest and most urgent drug threat’ in America.

Edith Serrano with Customs and Border Protection said nearly 1,500 commercial trucks pass through the Mariposa port of entry daily, so they’re using ‘multi-layer tools’ to help detect fentanyl and other items not allowed into the U.S.

“Nogales is the largest port of entry in the United States,” Serrano said. 

Serrano said they also use non-intrusive inspection systems, or scanners, able to help agents detect illicit narcotics and weapons that might be hidden. Tools also involve some K-9s that can sniff out narcotics and others that can smell prohibited foods. 


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But the problems don’t just stop in those small desert cities along the border. They reach deeper into Arizona’s communities.

Theresa Guerrero lost her son Jacob to fentanyl in 2021 and since then has advocated for more to be done to help stop the flow of the drug. 

“The border needs to be stopped or shut down because we have a superhighway from Nogales into Arizona,” Guerrero said. “Our kids are in the ground. They’re in an urn, they’re never coming back.”

Guerrero also expressed her concern over scanners that were in warehouses and not being used.

According to NBC on Thursday, Customs and Border Protection received funding in the amount $200 million and will use those funds to install 56 scanners at different ports of entry within the next two years. 

When it comes to the city of Nogales, Jimenez, the police chief, said fentanyl use is not a crisis in their city. 


However, Jimenez said they are working in a task force and with Homeland Security Investigations to help combat the fentanyl crisis.

“We collaborate with this drug task force, and they come in and assist with the investigation,” Jimenez said. “In some cases, they actually take over the investigation, knowing that this will lead to the furtherance of probably prosecuting the bigger players in this process.”

Francisco Burrola, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Arizona, acknowledged that Arizona is the number one state for the movement of fentanyl and other hard narcotics. 

Burrola explained their role in helping combat the crisis is to work independently and collaboratively with organizations to help identify transnational criminal organizations that seek to exploit trade, travel and financial systems. 

“Our goal is to get in there, identify these individuals, start taking down their infrastructure and start seizing their assets and their money,” Burrola said. “Once we take their money away, they can’t operate.” 

Burrola emphasized a need for the public’s contribution of information to help catch drug traffickers and dealers.  

“You see something, say something I mean, because you don’t know what that may be,” Burrola said. We’re not asking you to snitch on your neighbor. We’re just asking, ‘Hey, I’m starting to see something funny. This is not normal, and just report it to us.”     

John Modlin, chief patrol agent for Tucson Border Patrol, said in the past year, the number of migrants they’ve seen has doubled. 

“Last year, we apprehended about 373,000 people in Tucson,” Modlin said. “This year, at this pace, will probably hit about 700,000 people.”

Modlin noted that dealing with the humanitarian side of things is ‘keeping them from the national security and public safety issue the way [they] should.’

“I can tell you, fentanyl is getting past us,” Modlin said. “There’s no question, and it’s getting past us because we’re dealing with this other issue.”


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THE BORDER

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