A U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement team boards a small fishing boat that was stopped carrying close to 700 kilos of pure cocaine, in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border om February 2017. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

PolitiFact: Coast Guard stops a lot of drugs, not at border

U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said that if President Donald Trump wants to make the country safer, he should focus more on funding the Coast Guard than on his promised border wall.

After all, Garamendi claimed, the Coast Guard confiscates tons of contraband.

He is largely accurate about their enforcement efforts, but his remarks omit nuance and need clarification.

To start, his office said he meant to highlight interdictions of cocaine, not heroin.

The Coast Guard in fiscal year 2017 removed 223.8 metric tons of cocaine from non-commercial vessels in drug transit zones. Removal figures represent cocaine physically seized by the Coast Guard and cocaine discarded or destroyed by criminal organizations due to Coast Guard action.

The 223.8 metric tons removed represents about 8 percent of all the cocaine estimated to have flowed toward the United States in 2017.

The amount lost is “at times, an intelligence-based estimate of the quantity of cocaine onboard a given vessel that is burned, jettisoned, or scuttled in an attempt to destroy evidence when Coast Guard presence is detected,” said a January 2018 report from the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to the cocaine removed, the Coast Guard told PolitiFact that in 2017 it also removed 31,190 pounds of marijuana, 6 kilograms of heroin and other opiates, and 168 kilograms of methamphetamines.

The Coast Guard also said in an October 2017 blog post that its crews and interagency partners stopped over 455,000 pounds of cocaine worth over $6 billion wholesale.

“Annually, the Coast Guard interdicts more than three times the amount of cocaine seized at our borders and within the U.S. combined,” the blog post said.

Garamendi’s remark that “at the border they collected 20 tons” also made it sound as if “they” still referred to the Coast Guard. While the Coast Guard is not responsible for land border interdictions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show that in fiscal year 2017, its field officers and Border Patrol agents seized about 66,000 pounds of cocaine (about 30 metric tons).

Our ruling

Garamendi’s office said the congressman meant to highlight interdictions of cocaine, not heroin.

Drugs the Coast Guard removes from vessels include cocaine physically seized and cocaine discarded or destroyed by criminals in attempts to eliminate evidence. The Coast Guard collected substantially smaller amounts of heroin by comparison.

CBP officers and Border Patrol agents seized about 30 metric tons of cocaine in fiscal year 2017.

Garamendi’s comparison is partially accurate. We rate it Half True.

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