Rose Slams Administration for Failing to Stop Illegal Importation of Fentanyl through JFK Airport
Congressman highlights deficiencies and lack of action to improve screening of international mail at JFK Airport, despite warnings and recommendations from federal watchdog; ‘A year—recommendations still open: K9 teams, technology, resources—and they have not shown any sense of urgency to adopt these’
Washington, July 25, 2019
Congressman Max Rose chaired a hearing today to address the unprecedented opioid epidemic and urge action to stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the United States. Rose highlighted the important role John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) plays in screening more than half of all international mail that arrives in the United States.
“My district has been one of the epicenters of the epidemic. I’ve spoken to too many mothers and fathers who have had to bury their child. So, are we seeing progress? Yes, but nowhere near enough,” said Rose in his opening remarks. “I am concerned about a recent [Department of Homeland Security] Office of Inspector General report from last September which indicates DHS’s Custom and Border Protection’s mail inspection process needs improvement at JFK International Airport in New York City. With much of the illicit fentanyl arriving via international mail from China, this is concerning. Already, dealers on the dark web take advantage of the existing security gaps highlighted in the OIG report. They guarantee delivery of their illicit fentanyl and even offer replacing orders that do not arrive.”
In his questioning, Rose asked Sondra McCauley, U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistant Inspector General for Audits, “Ms. McCauley, you mentioned that at Kennedy Airport specifically, we’re looking at 0.01 percent of mail being screened. Could we surmise that less than one percent of the fentanyl coming into the airport is seized?”
McCauley responded, “I wouldn’t be able to make that calculation, but I would say that, they’re not screening and identifying everything.”
Rose confirmed with McCauley that Customs and Border Patrol’s (CBP) has failed to implement or make significant progress on the recommendations made in the Inspector General report from last September detailing a number of deficiencies in CBP’s inspection processes at JFK. The report detailed four main deficiencies that inhibits CBP’s ability to prevent illegal drugs and contraband from entering the country, including: (1) CBP does not inspect all international mail selected for inspection; (2) CBP does not inventory all mail selected for inspection; (3) the Automated Targeting System pilot for targeting mail has limited impact, partially due to foreign governments like China not providing data on incoming mail; and, (4) CBP’s chemical analysis process for detecting illegal opioids in arriving air mail is problematic.
“We wonder why people hate government,” Rose said in response to McCauley’s confirmation that CBP has failed to fully implement the recommendations. “A year—recommendations still open: K9 teams, technology, resources—and they have not shown any sense of urgency to adopt these. Is that correct?”
McCauley responded, “Our teams that are on the ground now are looking into these issues. They’re seeing some improvement and will be reporting out this fall.”
“Some improvement … I’ll make sure to pass on that next time I have to go to a funeral from someone who’s overdosed from fentanyl-laced heroin,” Rose concluded.
Rose, a member of the Freshmen Working Group on Addiction, has made combating the opioid epidemic and raising awareness around the disease of addiction a top priority. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, both the House and Senate passed Rose’s bipartisan Fentanyl Sanctions Act to apply pressure on the Chinese government to honor their commitment to make all fentanyl illegal and provide the United States with more tools and resources to go after illicit traffickers in China, Mexico, and other countries.
Additionally, the House Committee on Homeland Security passed legislation from Rose yesterday to help crack down on the inflow of foreign fentanyl and other opioids into the United States. Following a bipartisan push by Rose to increase funding for opioid prevention and treatment efforts, the House of Representatives passed legislation that increases funding to the agency responsible for supporting these efforts by $129 million.
The Center for Disease Control indicates that from 2000 to 2012, fentanyl was identified in 2 percent of all drug overdose deaths. By 2016, that number rose to 44 percent, and by 2017, 57 percent of all deaths that resulted from drug overdose had fentanyl involved. Much of the fentanyl seized in New York City is produced by Mexican cartels, which acquire chemical precursors from China, the world’s largest producer of illicit fentanyl.