Yesterday, DHS announced that Operation Blue Lotus, a new coordinated and surge operation targeting the smuggling of fentanyl, stopped more than 900 pounds of fentanyl from coming into the United States in its first week. Led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and working with federal, state, tribal and local partners, DHS is investing additional personnel, technology, and other resources along the southwest border to detect and seize this dangerous drug at and between ports of entry.
The operation, of the Biden Administration’s multi-pronged strategy, includes an increase in targeted inspections conducted by CBP Officers and HSI Agents, canine units, and advanced technology at locations along the border. Intelligence gained through Operation Blue Lotus will enhance the targeting of drug traffickers at the border. It is designed to help continue to build criminal cases against the transnational criminal organizations behind the networks and facilitators dealing in this deadly substance.
Since its launch on March 13, 2023, Operation Blue Lotus has led to 18 seizures, 16 federal arrests, and two state arrests. Those seizures prevented over 900 pounds of fentanyl, over 700 pounds of methamphetamines, and over 100 pounds of cocaine from entering the United States through Sunday, March 19.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas made the announcement after meeting with CBP officials at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona on Tuesday, where a new multi-energy portal (non-intrusive inspection technology or NII) was recently installed to increase cargo screening capacity.
“This Administration has a multi-pronged strategy to combat the scourge of fentanyl that is devastating communities across the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security works every day to prevent it from coming across our border. In the past two years, DHS has seized more fentanyl than the previous five years combined. But we must do more,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “Operation Blue Lotus is a DHS-led, coordinated surge effort to curtail the flow of illicit fentanyl smuggled into the United States from Mexico and bring to justice the dangerous criminal organizations profiting from the illegal production, distribution, and sale of this dangerous substance.”
Operation Blue Lotus leverages advanced analytics and intelligence capabilities at HSI and CBP. It includes the deployment of HSI personnel alongside CBP Officers at ports of entry, so that they can immediately pursue investigations as contraband is discovered in order to expose the networks.
CBP’s Forward Operating Labs (FOLs) at Ports of Entry conduct real-time analysis of unknown substances, enabling DHS to target, identify, and examine unknown powders, pills, crystalline substances, or organic materials for hard narcotics, precursor chemicals and components associated with the manufacturing or processing of synthetic drugs. In turn, that enables investigations to proceed more quickly.
“CBP is on the frontline of stopping fentanyl and other illegal narcotics that are primarily trafficked through Ports of Entry,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller. “Our dedicated personnel are already seizing record amounts of fentanyl, and we continue to make the interdiction of cross border smuggling one of our top priorities.”
“This is one of many efforts HSI is taking alongside partners as part of an overarching strategy to combat illegal drugs like fentanyl,” said ICE’s Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tae D. Johnson. “We continue to seize record quantities of narcotics and will continue to use dynamic approaches to stem the flow of deadly substances within our borders.”
Operation Blue Lotus builds on a tremendous amount of work already ongoing.
- DHS has initiated major investigative and enforcement operations targeting fentanyl, its chemical precursors, and the supply chain.
- HSI and CBP previously established Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST) units at CBP’s international mail facilities (IMFs), express consignment hubs, land border ports of entry, and international airports.
- DHS investment in non-intrusive inspection technology (NII), including the deployment of Multi Energy Portals (MEP) in the cargo environment that are significantly expanding our ability to screen traffic through Ports of Entry.
Drug cartels have been trafficking in fentanyl for years, and DHS is bringing unprecedented force to our fight against them. In the last two years, DHS has seized more fentanyl than it did in the previous five years combined. In the last two years, DHS arrested more criminals for committing crimes related to fentanyl and precursors chemicals than it did in the previous five years combined.
DHS is matching unprecedented challenges with unprecedented solutions to secure the border. Operation Blue Lotus is an example of how DHS surges resources and increases efficiency, prioritizing smart border security solutions, and working with federal, state, tribal and local partners.
The U.S. President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget invests $535 million in U.S. Customs and Border Protection for border technology, to include $305 million for Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems, with a primary focus on fentanyl detection at ports of entry. It also provides $113 million to hire additional personnel, for an increase of 350 Border Patrol Agents and 150 Customs and Border Protection Officers, as well as an additional 460 processing assistants at CBP and ICE and 39 positions to strengthen the Transportation and Removal Program. The Budget also provides $40 million to combat human smuggling as well as illicit drug operations such as the production and distribution of fentanyl through the Repository for Analytics in a Virtualized Environment (RAVEN), to help special investigative units disrupt and dismantle Transnational Criminal Organizations and their networks.