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PolitiFact Virginia: Bannon's Border Claim is Dubious

Steve Bannon and then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
Then Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon and then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference. Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Speaker: Steve Bannon

Statement: Border “walls actually stop (drug) cartels."

Date: July 2

Setting: Radio interview

Conservative strategist Steve Bannon has been working the airwaves in Virginia, trying to rouse Republican support for President Donald Trump’s policies and reelection bid.

During one of his frequent appearances on The John Fredericks Show, a radio broadcast from Portsmouth, he talked up Trump’s efforts to build a southern border wall. Bannon said the barrier would stop the flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs into the U.S. Here are his words from a July 2 interview:

“I also think what this wall does is start to galvanize this issue of what actual southern border security is. A wall is a fact. These walls actually stop (drug) cartels and right now, that’s what it’s about on the border. You have to stop the cartels.”

We took a look at Bannon’s statement that the wall would stop the flow of drugs across the Southern border - a claim that Trump has made repeatedly and is  well knownto PolitiFact.



The southwest border "remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States,"  according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The United States  has more than 300 ports of entry, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents screen travelers and cargo. Enforcement at these ports of entry, such as airports, shipping facilities, and border crossing stations is the responsibility of the Customs and Border Protection’s  Office of Field Operations. Enforcement between ports of entry is the responsibility of the CBP’s  Border Patrol.

People inside and outside government use U.S. Customs and Border Protection data to understand how heroin and other drugs flow into the United States. But, as  PolitiFact New Yorkhas written, the data reflects drug seizures and can’t account for drugs that come in undetected. The  Congressional Research Servicewarned in December that "data on seizures are available, but these reflect an unknown portion of total drugs traversing U.S. borders."



While we can’t measure the heroin that comes into the country undetected, it should be noted that federal data since at least 2012 consistently shows that agents have encountered far more heroin at ports of entry than between ports of entry, where Trump and congressional Republicans want to expand walls.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection  reportsthat it seized 3,129 pounds of heroin at ports of entry during the first eight months of the fiscal year 2019, which ends on August 31.

During the same period, the U.S. Border Patrol, which works between legal ports of entry,  seized 411 poundsof heroin. In other words, 88% of the heroin seized at borders was taken at legal points of entry.

The statistics were similar in fiscal 2018 when  90%of the heroin seized at the border was taken at ports of entry. In fiscal 2017,  78%of the seized heroin was taken at ports of entry.

The Drug Enforcement Agency reports similar findings, noting in its  2018 National Drug Threat Assessmentthat "a small percentage of all heroin seized by CBP along the land border was between ports of entry."

The agency reports that most heroin flows into the nation through privately-owned vehicles entering through legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroine is co-mingled with legal cargo. "Body carriers" account for a smaller percentage of heroin movement across the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the agency.


Back to Bannon

Promoting Trump’s immigration policies, Bannon said border walls “actually stop (drug) cartels.”

No one knows for certain how Trump’s wall would affect cartels. Congress has stymied his plans and only a tiny portion of the southern borders have walls built to the president’s specifications. For that reason, we didn’t rate Bannon’s statement on the Truth-O-Meter.

But the evidence overwhelmingly suggests Bannon is wrong and that cartels ship the vast majority of drugs through ports of entry - not other stretches of border where Trump wants to build the wall.

Jill Terreri Ramos of PolitiFact New York contributed to this story.



Steve Bannon,  comments on The John Fredericks Show, July 2, 2019 (11:13 mark).

PolitiFact New York, “  Majority of opioids come to U.S. through points of entry, Lowey says,” Jan. 14, 2019.

Congressional Research Service, “  Heroin trafficking in the United States,” Feb. 14, 2019.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “  CBP Enforcement Statistics FY 2019,” Sept. 1 to May 31, 2019.

USA Today, “  The Pentagon announced $1.5 billion for border barriers Friday. What’s the status of the wall?, May 11, 2019.

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