Politics

America’s Drug-Ridden Inner Cities Need Trump’s Wall

Opioid epidemic is the little-discussed, non-controversial reason the U.S. needs a secure border

Throughout President Donald Trump’s first month in office there has been nonstop debate regarding “The Wall” along the Mexican border. The debate has been boiled down into simple bytes of whether or not: the construction is even feasible, will it be useful, or is it even ethical? What is often missed in the discussion is the harm already being done to the nation, that has nothing to do with immigration, because we do not control our southern border.

Since 2009 the U.S. has seen record levels of heroin and other narcotics trafficked from Mexico, while homicide rates have spiked in a number of American cities. While the debate about how people should arrive in America is one issue, the flow of narcotics across America’s southern border is separate — and its impact on communities around the country is reaching a critical mass, particularly in the inner cities, which the president has promised to help revive.

One can look at the flow of narcotics into the U.S. like a river, whose headwaters are at our southern border.

Largely overlooked amidst the presidential transition was the 2016 Center for Disease Control report on Opioid use in the United States. Released in January, it reported a record 33,092 Americans died from overdoses in 2016. This was comparable to the number of U.S. traffic deaths in 2015, and deaths specifically from heroin surpassed the number of Americans killed by firearms in a given year for the first time ever. The Center for Disease Control has officially labeled the situation an epidemic. This has not happened overnight — heroin has been pouring across our southern border in increasing numbers every year. However, there has been a drastic rise between 2009 and today.

This increase appeared in tandem with the executive orders then-President Obama signed, which weakened the authority of the various agencies that enforce laws pertaining to border enforcement. As his executive orders went into effect, the number of deportations on ICE initiated detainers (largely of criminals) dipped to a record low, along with total apprehensions. This was subsequently accompanied by a record increase in heroin coming in from Mexico and points south.

Along with this influx has been historic increases violence in many cities — like Baltimore and Chicago. A deliberate weakening of the border policy by Obama appears to coincide neatly with record opioid consumption in America, and all the destruction that goes along with it. President Trump’s reversal of these orders will hopefully at least stem the flow. Beyond that, building a physical barrier between the U.S. and the cartels flooding the United States with narcotics could help significantly drop the level of opioids coming in. In many areas of the country this is desperately needed.

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To illustrate how dire the situation has become we must understand how heroin historically arrived in the U.S. and where things stand today. Afghanistan has long been the world leader in the cultivation of the product; however, in 2010 Afghanistan was surpassed by Mexico as the chief exporter of heroin to the United States. Today, nearly 80 percent of America’s heroin comes directly from Mexico while more than 90 percent originates from points south of the Rio Grande. Corresponding with this uptick in trafficking from points south has been a spike in violence in American cities. Between 2015-2016 Chicago endured some 1,242 homicides. Baltimore, long an epicenter of the heroin trade, followed up its deadliest year on record in 2015, with its second most deadly in 2016. In both cities 80 percent of these murders are directly linked to gangs, who in terms of the drug trade are effectively proxies of larger cartels.

Without the cartels bringing the product into the United States, these gangs have little reason for existing. Feuds and fights over “market share” between gangs in places like Baltimore and Chicago have turned parts of these cities into what could be viewed as “low intensity conflict” zones. Residents find themselves stuck between warring factions and the local authorities who have sought to improve their lives, but in reality many residents have only seen the situation deteriorate. While to this Marine it has some ominous underpinnings of an insurgency, we have been in many way fighting it like one for the past several decades with little to show for it. Even today the focus is largely on removing dealers at the local level, yet doing little to stem the overwhelming tide of narcotics into the country.

In recent years it has been quite the opposite. Obama’s policies have proven that reducing border enforcement leads to an increase in both trafficking and violence. Therefore, it is logical to assume that increased enforcement would reduce the flow of drugs and reduce violence. Taking this a step further would be something we have not tried yet: building a physical barrier to prevent the unchecked movement of heroin and other narcotics into the United States. For this reason alone the wall makes perfect sense.

For decades we have left the border largely open while simultaneously conducting the War on Drugs through local police and federal agencies. Additionally, we provide hundreds of millions a year in aid to the Mexican government so they can prosecute their fight at home.

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What we have never done is put a comprehensive barrier in place in order to prevent drugs from entering our country in the first place. One can look at the flow of narcotics into the U.S. like a river, whose headwaters are at our southern border. In order to eliminate flow downstream you can either choose to dam all the tributaries, or you can place one dam at the head of the river and cut the flow entirely. Harsh federal mandatory minimum sentences are an example of how we’ve continuously set the dams downstream. The logic behind them was punishing and making an example of those who engaged in the drug trade. However, Mexican cartels still generate over $60 billion a year in profits from the United States. Since this clearly hasn’t worked, perhaps its time to cut their ability to send their product into our country in the first place.

Would this approach be 100 percent successful? There’s no way to answer that question until we have tried. With a price tag estimated at over $12 billion such a barrier will not come cheap. That being said the currently the American taxpayer pays untold billions every year in the form of incarceration, treatment, medical costs, enforcement, and a myriad of other hidden costs.

Most important are the hundreds of thousands of Americans who while largely forgotten, want no part of gangs, drugs, or the accompanying violence. Yet, are forced to live in their midst because the policies of previous administrations have failed to serve them. We owe these people a solution and a resolution — and it starts with finding a way to interdict the flow of narcotics into America. Building an obstacle in their way can’t hurt.

James R. Webb served as an enlisted Marine Corps infantryman and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a frequent LifeZette contributor on issues of national security.

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