Truth Test: Fact-checking the Utah governor’s Mexico border comments

Feb 7, 2024, 6:31 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2024, 8:28 am

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah doesn’t share a border with Mexico, but Gov. Spencer Cox came back with concerns about a surge in border crossings and a flow of drugs from the nation’s southern border to Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall pushed back on any connection between the two.

So, how should Utahns cut through the political back and forth?

The KSL Investigators did so by speaking directly with the agency investigating how drugs like fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid, make their way to Utah.

How are drugs arriving in Utah?

The governor’s comments this week came after he joined a group of other Republican governors at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“You can literally walk through, you know, downtown Salt Lake City and see the impacts of those drugs that are coming across the border with Mexico,” Cox told reporters on Sunday.

The governor also said: “That’s another, again, public safety reason that we need to do more to protect our borders. And, and then and then again, fix legal immigration so that people can come through the front door the right way.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall fired back, saying there’s no evidence that an increase in migrants crossing the southern U.S. border is influencing drug crimes in her city.

“Our data doesn’t show any increase related to immigration changes at the border,” Mendenhall said.

Data provided by Salt Lake City police shows a 4% decrease in drug cases from 2019 to 2022.

To learn more and gather context, the KSL Investigators sat down with Dustin Gillespie, the assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Utah.

There is no question drugs are making their way to Utah and Salt Lake City from Mexico, Gillespie said. In 2023, the DEA seized more fentanyl pills in the Rocky Mountain region than ever before, with more than 664,000 of those pills found in Utah, he told KSL.

So, the governor was right about where the drugs are coming from and an increase. But as for any tie to a surge in migrants seeking asylum, Gillespie said cartels roll the vast majority of those drugs right through legal ports of entry.

“They can put more drugs into a vehicle and get it quickly across the border, than somebody can hand carry across the border, walking,” Gillespie said.

He said that’s been the case for the 17 years he’s worked for the DEA.

“They pack as much as they can into passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers and get it across the border,” Gillespie said.

This truth test revealed the governor’s statements lack context and have the potential to mislead.

KSL reached out to the governor’s office Tuesday but did not hear back.

KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

Homeowner Mark Shea tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt he paid someone to build a deck who abandoned the j...

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Homeowners ask why authorities can’t shut down an unlicensed contractor

Two Salt Lake County homeowners hired and paid someone to build decks for their homes but say he left the jobs unfinished. Turns out, he’s been cited by the state for not having a contractor’s license before.

16 hours ago

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, react to a reporter’s qu...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox, KSL TV

‘More secrecy’: Utah lawmakers advance bills targeting government transparency

Several bills would chip away at government transparency in Utah, including one proposal that’s a direct response to KSL’s fight for public records. A First Amendment attorney says he’s alarmed.

18 hours ago

Matt Gephardt, journalists, looks as paper with a woman...

Matt Gephardt and Cimaron Neugebauer

Get Gephardt: Ticketmaster seizes back purchased seats

Imagine buying tickets to a show, then having the seller refuse to give them to you. That’s what happened to a Utah woman, when she got a refund she didn’t ask for.

2 days ago

Sen. Curt Bramble and members of a Senate committee talk about a bill designed to keep elected offi...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox

Should you get to see elected officials’ calendars? These Utah lawmakers say no

The KSL Investigators are days away from going to court to argue for your right to see the Utah Attorney General's work calendar. As we fight for transparency, lawmakers are stepping in to make it so the public doesn't get to see this record of how officials spend their time.

3 days ago

Penny Belgard looks at a photobook with pictures of her son Cody, who was killed by Salt Lake City ...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox, KSL TV

Cases on the clock: KSL Investigates lengthy delays in SL County’s police use of force decisions

Months and years tick by as Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor weighs whether he’ll clear or charge officers for using force. The KSL Investigators explore the cost of that wait for officers, families, and public safety.

4 days ago

Pig-butchering is a devastating combination of romance and crypto scams, and it’s taking Utahns f...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Unmasking the fast-moving pig-butchering scam hitting Utah

Pig-butchering is a devastating combination of romance and crypto scams, and it’s taking Utahns for all their worth.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Truth Test: Fact-checking the Utah governor’s Mexico border comments