USA First Look

No wall too high: Authorities seize drug catapult along US-Mexico border

Even if Trump's wall can withstand these age-old machines, cartels have several other methods to bring their product into the United States. 

US Border Patrol agents have confiscated a catapult system believed to have been used to launch drugs into the United States, underscoring concerns that President Trump's plan to erect a wall along the border may not be effective at thwarting marijuana smugglers.

The two agents were patrolling a stretch of border fence near Douglas, Ariz., on Friday, when they noticed several people running away. They found two bundles of marijuana, weighing a total of 47 pounds, on the US side, and a catapult system attached to the southern side of the fence. The Associated Press reported that the catapult was seized by Mexican authorities.

This isn’t the first time drug cartels have used these age-old machines. In 2011, US National Guard troops spotted a 9-foot-tall catapult being used to launch pot into Arizona. The Mexican army destroyed the device, but the smugglers got away.

Mr. Trump's Jan. 25 order instructs the secretary of Homeland Security “to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border,” as a means to prevent the entry of “unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

But security experts have long warned that, even if Mr. Trump fulfills his signature campaign pledge, a border wall would do little to stop Mexican drug cartels from bringing their product into the United States.  

"The Mexican drug traffickers would punch a hole through it, fly over it," Mike Vigil, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, said of the wall last March, in an interview with Business Insider. "They would be able to circumvent that with medieval technology, catapults, shooting stuff across the wall."

Trump’s height estimates for a border wall have ranged between 30 and 55 feet, which may prove more of a challenge for catapults, like the one confiscated on Friday. But even if drug smugglers have to abandon these venerable machines, they’ll have no shortage of other methods for delivering their product.

More than 200 smuggling tunnels” – some of which feature lighting, rails, and other advanced features – “have been discovered along the border in various stages of construction, according to the Border Patrol,” The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey reported.

One cost estimate for the wall assumes that it would include an underground component to deter tunneling. But cartels have also taken to the air with drones and ultralight aircraft, gone beneath the waves in submarines, and hidden their drugs in several innocent-looking imports, ranging from donuts to frozen sharks.

As entertaining as some of these exploits seem, drug violence is a painful reality for many Mexicans. Last month, there were 116 homicides in the Mexican state of Sinaloa alone – a 50 percent increase over January 2016, according to Reuters.

Some experts attribute the increase to power struggles within the Sinaloa cartel after its leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was extradited to the United States to stand trial.

President Trump has described these cartels as “a clear and present danger” to the US, and recently signed another executive order aimed at combatting them.

Ironically, building a wall could increase demand for outside-the-box smuggling strategies – and give a boost to the cartels that have spent years honing them.

In September, Tom Wainwright, author of the 2016 book “Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel,” told Business Insider’s Christopher Woody that Trump “talks a crackdown at the border, but crossing the border is what they do best. It's where their advantage lies — that's where they make their money.”

"I think if the cartels could vote,” he continued, “they would vote for Donald Trump.”

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