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.

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