NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Tuesday he will be sending more National Guard personnel to the Texas-Mexico border to support ongoing border security operations.
Lee said roughly 50 more guardsmen will deploy to the U.S. Southern border to work with the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Safety in early 2022. In July, the governor visited 300 members from Tennessee who were deployed to Texas.
Tennessee has deployed its National Guard in support of curtailing trafficking operations and illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border for decades.
"Our Soldiers and Airmen are capable and ready to come to the aid of our fellow Americans along the Texas border,” said Tennessee Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes. “Their service and sacrifice carry on a long-standing tradition and are rooted in a long line of Tennesseans who established the Volunteer Legacy that distinctly marks our great state.”
Lee said the move is intended to help crack down on drug trafficking that is impacting Tennessee, particularly fentanyl and methamphetamine. The governor said U.S. Customs and Border Protection drug seizures continued to increase at the border in the 2021 fiscal year, which is true for methamphetamine and fentanyl, but not overall drug seizures according to data reported by the agency.
From October 2020 to September 2021, border patrol and field operations officers seized a total of 11,201 pounds of fentanyl, more than twice the 4,791 pounds seized the year prior. Fentanyl seizures at the border are relatively small by weight compared to methamphetamine, which was the second-most seized drug with nearly 191,000 pounds seized last year.
However, authorities said the rise of illegal fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids in the form of laced counterfeit prescription painkillers on the streets has disproportionately contributed to the rise in overdose deaths in the past decade, saying the majority of what's now available on the streets is primarily being smuggled in through the interstate system from across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tennessee recorded more than 3,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020, a 45% increase from the previous year. The DEA said it expects fentanyl to continue to contribute to high overdose numbers in the U.S. in the near term, saying its availability either by itself or mixed with drugs like heroin continues to persist.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration's 2020 threat assessment report, meth was a drug of growing concern, saying that the majority of meth available in the U.S. is produced and smuggled in from across the Southern border via transnational criminal organizations. The DEA said domestic meth lab incidents have shrunk significantly -- once as high as 23,700 in 2004, but down to 890 in 2019.
"Mexican TCOs are able to produce methamphetamine that is highly pure and potent, while less expensive to produce, which has contributed to the decline of domestic production," the DEA said in its 2020 report.
Overall, though, drug seizures have dropped significantly despite a record 1.6 million expulsions and apprehensions at the border that ramped up beginning in March 2021. The 200,000-pound drop in overall seizures in the 2021 fiscal year was due to a significant reduction in the amount of marijuana seized, which decreased by more than 200,000 pounds.
In the month of October, border protection reported methamphetamine seizures surpassed marijuana in weight. Roughly half of all drugs seized that month by weight were meth-related.
Drug seizures at the Southern border in 2021 were roughly five times lower compared to reports from a decade ago, due to the massive drop-off in the amount of marijuana seized as more U.S. states legalize recreational use and production.
"In U.S. markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana," the 2020 DEA report said.
A total of 624,000 pounds of drugs were seized in 2021 with 1.6 million people apprehended or expulsed. For comparison, in 2010 border patrol reported close to 450,000 apprehensions, but nearly 4 million pounds of marijuana, cocaine and heroin seized -- with 3.6 million pounds of that being marijuana.