With the majority of fentanyl and other narcotics in the United States entering through California’s southern border, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday he would be beefing up the California National Guard presence along the border immediately to try to stem the flow.
“Fentanyl is a deadly poison ripping families and communities apart,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday. “California is cracking down — and today we’re going further by deploying more CalGuard soldiers to combat this crisis and keep our communities safe.”
The number of CalGuard members stationed along the southern border will rise from 40 to roughly 60, a 50% increase, according to Maj. Gen. Matthew P. Beevers of the California Military Department.
Beevers oversees a dual federal and state military reserve force that includes 367 CalGuard service members deployed to support anti-narcotics efforts across most of the state’s 58 counties.
Officials estimate that 65% of the narcotics supply in the United States enters the country through the California border, Beevers said.
As the fentanyl crisis has grown, overdose deaths have climbed in recent years, and L.A. County has become a major fentanyl distribution hub for Mexican drug cartels, which push counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, often disguised to look like prescription painkillers.
Beevers noted at a news conference Wednesday that CalGuard had had “some extraordinarily successful operations in this last year.”
The governor’s office reported that CalGuard helped law enforcement seize more than 11,763 pounds of fentanyl so far this year, and 28,765 pounds of fentanyl were seized throughout California last year.
The CalGuard anti-narcotics program is supported with a budget of $41 million, of which $26 million is provided by the federal government and $15 million from the California state budget.
“We recognize this as a unique challenge to California, and I think the governor’s additional $15 million really speaks to getting after that,” Beevers said, adding that it was “unprecedented” to receive state aid for such efforts.
The CalGuard staffing increase, which begins Thursday, focuses exclusively on the five ports of entry along the southern border: Otay Mesa, San Ysidro, Tecate, Calexico East and Calexico West.
Although U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s field officers conduct the primary work at these sites, CalGuard members assist with two major tasks: secondary vehicle inspections, in which vehicles are searched for smuggled narcotics; and vehicle X-rays, which scan to detect narcotics inside vehicles.
The increased staffing will allow nearly round-the-clock operation of the X-rays, according to Beevers, which “dramatically increases” the number of vehicles analyzed by the machines.
Newsom’s latest move at the border comes after similar CalGuard staffing increases were made in San Francisco in the spring targeting drug traffickers and suppliers in the city. Beevers said CalGuard analysts had supported local law enforcement efforts and helped make a “marked improvement” in the last couple of months.