Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Bill Owens announced that they have written a personal letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, asking her to use an upcoming summit with her Canadian counterpart, the Minister of Public Safety, to develop a comprehensive approach to stemming the exploitation of Indian Reservations on the northern border by narcotics traffickers. Next month, Napolitano is scheduled to meet with Vic Toews, Canada’s Minister for Public Safety for a biannual border summit.
In January of 2009, federal agents uncovered the largest marijuana ring in Upstate New York when they raided homes and businesses on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. Since 1999, smugglers have sold more than 100,000 pounds of marijuana worth between $300 million and $700 million. The marijuana was grown in Canada and transported into the U.S. through the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. Schumer noted that the reservation is a prime throughway for drug and illicit cigarette smuggling and arms trafficking because it’s the only Indian reservation that straddles the U.S.-Canada border in New York.
During the summit, Schumer, Gillibrand and Owens are urging Secretary Napolitano to move forward on the following actions:
- Begin work on a plan to stem the illicit drug flow through federal Indian reservations, particularly in New York;
- Identify concrete areas of collaboration that both the U.S. and Canadian government can work together on in the near future to crackdown on smuggling; and
- Make a commitment that tribal leadership from New York is included in the process of addressing the exploitation of reservations along the northern border.
“Canada’s cooperation is absolutely essential to stemming the tide of illegal drugs that are coming into communities in Upstate New York,” Schumer said. “Secretary Napolitano’s meeting with Minister Toews represents a significant opportunity to make major progress in the fight against narcotics trafficking, and communities across New York will suffer if we don’t take it. I hope she will work with her Canadian counterpart and Tribal Leaders – who are working hard to stop smuggling as well – to solve this problem.”
“Vast drug networks along New York’s northern border are exploiting Federal Indian Reservations to use as drug trade routes,” Senator Gillibrand said. “The drug rings only exacerbate the gang problem that is on the rise in many communities across the state. We need a commitment by Secretary Napolitano to partner with the Canadian government, tribal leadership, and local communities to ensure that we have the tools and resources we need to fight this problem at its source and keep our communities safe.”
“It is vital to both the economic development of our region and the safety of our community that we take steps to stop the drug trade across our northern border,” Owens said. “Northern New York has benefitted for decades from a robust business relationship across international lines, but any illegal activity that takes place over our border threatens that relationship. During economically challenging times, we must ensure that we take every step to protect what helps us pay our bills, and fix what does not.”
Biannually U.S. and Canadian law enforcement come together for an important summit that sets major policy for the northern border and this year’s summit represents one of the best opportunities in years to finally crackdown on the flow of narcotics through northern border states like New York.
The northern border of the United States is hard to monitor due to its length and geography and is often exploited by a diverse array of traffickers. Increasingly international traffickers have use Indian reservations as a staging ground for narcotic operations throughout the country. In December, Schumer introduced legislation to crack down on the problem. The legislation, the “Cross Border Reservation Drug Trafficking Sentencing Enhancement Act of 2009” would amend the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to increase penalties for individuals who use Indian reservations within the United States border to facilitate cross-border drug trafficking. Owens introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
Drug trafficking has become an increasing problem in Northern New York as international drug smugglers seek every available route to bring their products into the United States. America’s northern border is now the lead gateway for ecstasy to enter the U.S. Since 2005, seizures of ecstasy coming across the northern border has been eight times greater than seizures in our country’s southwest border. According to the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment, the amount of ecstasy (MDMA) seized at or between northern border ports of entry increased 594 percent from 2004-2009. And during the last five years law enforcement officials across the country’s northern border have seized an average of almost 400 kilograms of ecstasy per year. Cracking down on the alarming levels of ecstasy coming into northern New York is a significant problem, but other drugs are significant problems as well. Since 2007, cocaine seizures at the northern border have risen from less than 1kg to 18kg; heroin seizures have gone from less than 1kg to 28kg; and marijuana seizures have gone from 2,791kg to 3,423kg.
At a recent Congressional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Schumer raised concerns regarding illicit traffic along the northern border with Secretary Napolitano during her testimony. At the time, she agreed that the continuing drug trade is a growing and serious problem. Schumer, Gillibrand, and Owens’ growing concern is that organized criminal elements are increasingly exploiting Federal Indian Reservations on our borders to traffic narcotics, illicit cigarettes, firearms, and humans. The President’s recently released National Drug Control Strategy describes how organized crime takes advantage of the St. Regis Mohawk (Akwesasne) Reservation on New York’s northern border to smuggle metric-ton quantities of high potency marijuana and multi-thousand-table quantities of ecstasy. These areas provide open gateways for trafficking that need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Securing commitments from the Canadian government to step up their work to crack down on the drug trade would represent a positive development that could alter the nature flow of drugs coming into New York communities. Schumer and Owens have sponsored legislation The Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act of 2010 which would set up a government-wide approach to crack down on drug trafficking through increased federal planning and amped up cooperation between international, federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. Bringing the full power of all of our law enforcement agencies to bear on the northern border drug problem would put a major dent in the problem, but would be for naught without increased cooperation from the Canadian government. Today’s letter by Schumer, Gillibrand and Owens is an effort to get tangible results from the summit that will help communities in New York beat back the scourge of illegal drug trafficking.
The full text of Schumer, Gillibrand and Owens’ letter can be seen below:
Secretary Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
We write today out of concern for security at our northern border generally and the growing exploitation of Federal Indian reservations by illicit traffickers specifically.
At a recent Congressional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Schumer raised concerns regarding illicit traffic along the northern border. You agreed that this is a growing and serious problem. Indeed, according to the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment, the amount of MDMA (ecstasy) seized at or between northern border ports of entry increased 594 percent from 2004-2009. It is our growing concern that organized criminal elements are increasingly exploiting Federal Indian Reservations on our borders to traffic narcotics, illicit cigarettes, firearms, and humans. The President’s recently released National Drug Control Strategy describes how organized crime takes advantage of the St. Regis Mohawk (Akwesasne) Reservation on New York’s northern border to smuggle metric-ton quantities of high potency marijuana and multi-thousand-table quantities of ecstasy. These areas provide open gateways for trafficking that need to be addressed as soon as possible.
We understand that next month you are scheduled to meet with the Canadian counterpart of the Department of Homeland Security, Public Safety Canada, for a bi-annual border meeting. We ask that at this meeting you to raise the issue of trafficking through Federal Indian reservations along the U.S.-Canada border, and identify areas of possible collaboration to end this abuse. We believe that US-Canada cooperation is critical to successful protection of our northern border, and we look forward to learning about the outcomes of your meeting. We also hope that your departments will engage tribal leadership in search of solutions moving forward.
We believe that funding for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) has been particularly effective at enhancing and coordinating efforts to stem drug trafficking in various counties throughout New York. As you know, Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence Counties in Northern New York received this designation in 2009. We know that the addition of these three counties will play a significant role in enhancing our efforts to respond to this criminal exploitation of the Akwesasne Reservation and end illicit traffic along the northern border. We hope you will continue to support these efforts.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Charles. E Schumer Kirsten Gillibrand Bill Owens
United States Senator United States Senator U.S. Congressman