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At Arizona border, Mayorkas announces new DHS initiative to target fentanyl smuggling

A new Department of Homeland Security initiative aims to target fentanyl and other drugs being smuggled through ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Speaking at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales on Tuesday evening, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that drug cartels have been trafficking fentanyl for the last five years. Analysts using federal data says the overwhelming majority of fentanyl is smuggled across the border at ports of entry, often by U.S. citizens.

Mayorkas said DHS’s newly formed "Operation Blue Lotus" aims to intercept that flow by using smart technology and inter-agency collaboration

"The operation includes an increase in targeted inspections conducted by CBP officers, Border Patrol and HSI agents, canine units and advanced technology," he said. 

Mayorkas said the operation netted more than 900 pounds of fentanyl and 18 arrests in its first week. Mayorkas said more than 700 pounds of methamphetamine and over 100 pounds of cocaine were also seized. 

CBP  data shows several spikes in fentanyl smuggling along the border in Arizona, with more than 1,000 pounds of the drug seized in February. 

Mayorkas was joined by Gov. Katie Hobbs on Tuesday. Hobbs said in addition to touring the port, officials spoke with business and health leaders along the border, and visited migrant aid center Casa Alitas in Tucson.

"Among those discussions were ways we can accelerate economic development opportunities, and provide health care and resources to vulnerable communities," she said. "My visit wouldn't be complete without addressing the fentanyl crisis, that we just heard a little bit about. Last year, 1,773 Arizonans lost their lives to opioid overdose. Nearly all of these cases involve synthetic opioids like fentanyl."

Hobbs said state authorities are working with community health organizations on harm reduction and drug treatment programs. But the only way to make meaningful change is to work with federal, tribal and local partners. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.