Is Garamendi right that most drug smuggling now occurs by sea?

In a recent op-ed for The Hill, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, argued that the $1.6 billion Congress allocated toward the construction of President Trump’s proposed border wall could have been better spent on increasing the budget for the U.S. Coast Guard, as drug traffickers are turning to the sea at increasingly high rates.

“Last year the Coast Guard and its partner agencies – both foreign and domestic – interdicted more cocaine at sea than was seized at the U.S. land border and across the entire nation by all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies combined,” Garamendi wrote. “A border wall will not do much to take drugs off our streets. Investing in the Coast Guard will.”

According to Eric Olsen, a Legislative and Communications Aide for Garamendi, the statistics for this claim are not yet publicly available — as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Garamendi receives information straight from Coast Guard leadership on its efforts and needs.

Lieutenant Commander Matthew Kroll, a public affairs officer for the US Coast Guard, confirmed Garamendi’s statistics, stating in fiscal year 2016, the Coast Guard and its partner agencies interdicted 282 metric tons of cocaine, while domestic and border seizures accounted for 68 metric tons.

According to the most recent data available, the Coast Guard seizes an average of 1,214 pounds of cocaine and 144 pounds of marijuana everyday, in addition to interdicting 17 undocumented immigrants. Data from the Office of the Inspector General states that the maritime flow of cocaine increased from 945 metric tons in 2014 to 1,254 metric tons in 2015.

Additionally, a report from the US Foreign Military Studies Office states that maritime smuggling accounts for 80 percent of the total illicit flow of cocaine from the Andean region of South America to mid-way transportation regions prior to entry into the US.

The increasing use and sophistication of “narco submarines,” submersible vessels used by traffickers to transport illicit drugs, has intensified the maritime fight against smuggling, the report states.

While the Coast Guard is responsible for the majority of cocaine interdictions, they are lacking the resources and funding necessary to intercept about 60 percent of the contraband they’re aware of, Garamendi continued.

“The Coast Guard simply does not have the cutters, the aircraft and the resources it needs. Why would we spend $1.6 billion to build an ineffective stretch of wall when we could invest that money in the Coast Guard and virtually guarantee sharp reductions in the volume of illegal drugs that reach our streets?” Garamendi wrote.

Verify sources:
Eric Olsen, a Legislative and Communications Aide for Garamendi
Lieutenant Commander Matthew Kroll, US Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer

Verify resources:
Garamendi’s op-ed
Coast Guard 2018 Budget Overview
Data from the Office of the Inspector General
US Foreign Military Studies Office report

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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