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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Seizures of illegal drugs are on the rise along the U.S.-Mexico border, as drug cartels have adjusted their tactics amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. officials say.

Quantities of meth seized at the border through August are already double the amount that U.S. border agents came across all of fiscal year 2019; fentanyl seizures are up 30 percent and 24,264 more pounds of marijuana have been seized.

“Cartels are constantly finding new and innovative ways to smuggle not only illegal immigrants, but also drugs. […] We saw a precipitous drop in March but they changed their tactics and procedures quickly and are right back on top,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan.

Drug seizures by fiscal year at the Southwest border. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)

He said drug trafficking organizations are concentrating on sending “hard drugs” like meth, heroin and fentanyl from Mexico to the United States. Those substances are easier to conceal and more cost effective than trying to send multi-ton shipments of marijuana.

Morgan mentioned the recent seizure in El Paso of 158 pounds of liquid meth smugglers tried to pass off as bottled water.

Seizures of those “hard” drugs at the border were up 56 percent in August compared to July, the CBP acting commissioner said at a Friday stop in Laredo, Texas.

The spike in trafficking is being reflected in increased violence suffered in Mexican border towns where drugs are smuggled north.

Mexican police investigate the finding of four bodies with signs of torture near the desert in Juarez, Mexico. (photo Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

This year through the end of August, Tijuana has recorded 1,339 homicides, many of them allegedly drug-related.

Juarez reported 1,201 murders during the same period of time and is on pace to experience its most violent year since the drug wars of 2008-2011, officials there say.

Just this past Sunday, police there discovered the bodies of three men and a woman dumped in the desert. All were bound and showed signs of torture, according to police there.

Americans not abiding by border travel restrictions

Americans waiting to get back into the United States after visiting Mexico on Monday were again facing waits of two hours or more on the passenger vehicle lanes of El Paso’s border crossings.

CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said Americans and legal permanent residents of the United States are not cooperating with the restrictions meant to lower the risk of bringing — or taking — COVID-19 across the border.

“The non-essential restrictions at ports of entry strike a balance between addressing health concerns and economic concerns. What we saw when we started the restrictions is that Mexican nationals are abiding by medical experts’ advice […] But we did a survey and 63 percent of American citizens and LPRs (lawful permanent residents) self-admitted going back and forth for non-essential reasons,” Morgan said.

That includes attending family gatherings in Mexico, going to restaurants and even playing golf south of the border.

“That’s just wrong,” he said, adding that CBP officers at border crossings are trying to “educate” travelers about the importance of containing the pandemic.

Cars crawl toward a U.S. inspection booth in Downtown Juarez, Mexico. (Photo by Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report.)

As of this past weekend, many inspection lanes at border crossings in places like El Paso were closed and CBP officers were constant in asking travelers the reason for going across into Mexico, commuters told Border Report.

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