MEXICO CITY, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost on Wednesday told U.S. senators a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, not just detection technology, is crucial for her agents' fight against Mexican drug cartels.
"As our adversaries are increasingly sophisticated we must invest in an upgraded border wall system to keep pace against the threat," Provost said to senators at a hearing for the subcommittee on border security.
The Border Patrol chief gave sworn testimony to senators as part of a panel organized by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called "Narcos: Transnational Cartels and Border Security." Representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of National Drug Control Policy also offered sworn testimony about the operations and threats posed by Mexican cartels.
"I think they are winning," Cornyn said in his opening remarks. The senior senator from Texas said drug trafficking is worth $64 billion per year to Mexican drug cartels.
Mexican drug cartels are some of the leading suppliers of illegal narcotics, such as opioids. Fentanyl overdose deaths provoked concern and sustained questions about border security from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., an outspoken opponent of a border wall which he called "wasteful" and "ineffective."
"In 2017, drug overdoses in the United States killed a record 70,237 people. The deadliest drug we face is fentanyl," Durbin said. "Last year, 28,466 overdose deaths involving fentanyl, an increase in more than 45 percent over the previous year ... the DEA has found that the cartels transport the bulk of their illicit goods over the southwest border through legal ports of entry."
"We are in the midst of a drug epidemic like we have never seen before," Durbin said, who also noted that fentanyl mostly comes from China through the mail.
To stop this flow of illicit narcotics Durbin said Customs and Border Protection wants better technology to screen the mail, along with drive-through inspection systems "not a wall" which he labeled a "medieval solution."
Among the senators, support or opposition for the border wall broke along partisan lines.
"What additional tools are needed to slow down or stop this flow of fentanyl and other illegal drugs into the country," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Provost, recognizing the "vigorous debate" currently underway in the Senate about a border wall.
"Between the ports of entry we need more detection technology. We need more men and women. I need more canine handlers. We utilize them quite a bit. And, of course, I do need more barrier because that does impede and deny," Provost said, who then went on to relate a story about the use of physical barriers to end "drive-through" drug smuggling at the border in Arizona.
"Technology provides situational awareness," Provost said, "but that only let's me know something is crossing. It sure doesn't stop it from crossing."
"Technology and personnel are necessary," Provost said, in response to a question from Sen. Cornyn about the need for physical barriers, such as the border wall.
"We need the ability to impede and deny and that is what a barrier brings for us."
The day before at the White House President Trump met with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate for a discussion over spending on the border wall. The meeting turned combative, with Trump vowing to shut down the U.S. government if Congress failed to pass a budget which includes $5 billion for the wall.