Border Patrol and artificial intelligence: An alliance to stop fentanyl and child trafficking

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, confirmed the integration of this tool to facilitate and improve agents' work.

In recent times, artificial intelligence (AI) has become an indispensable tool in technological development, despite the fact that it has considerable weaknesses. Legislation is being promoted to prevent it from becoming one of the great threats to society. However, it also has its benefits, such as helping people be able to do their jobs. That is something that security forces have taken advantage of to fight crime and delinquency.

In order to strengthen and make drug detection controls at ports of entry more effective, Border Patrol has found an ally in artificial intelligence and has decided to implement it to prevent large quantities of narcotics from entering the United States, including fentanyl, which kills tens of thousands of people each year. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed this at the Axios AI+ Summit held in Washington, DC in November, 2023.

"Our Office of Field Operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection is using AI to detect unusual travel patterns of vehicles crossing the border," Mayorkas said.

Detecting the chemical precursors of fentanyl

Border Patrol agents use artificial intelligence to track chemical precursors, the substances with which synthetic drugs are made. In the case of fentanyl, these elements are 4-anilino-N-phenethylpiperidine (ANPP) and norfentanyl.

The problem with this lethal opioid is that it can be easily camouflaged, due to the small doses in which it can be administered. Traditional detection methods - such as drug dogs - are sometimes ineffective. For this reason, the Border Patrol uses artificial intelligence to find the chemical precursors of fentanyl that drug traffickers try to use so that the opioid can be manufactured in the United States instead of directly bringing the drug already produced from the other side of the border.

Thousands of vehicles cross from Mexico into the United States daily. For this reason, Border Patrol decided to integrate artificial intelligence among the tools used by agents at the border to seize illegal substances.

Artificial intelligence to rescue kidnapped minors

Stopping fentanyl from making its way into the country is not the only purpose. During the Axios AI+ Summit, the Secretary of Homeland Security explained that artificial intelligence is making it possible to combat child trafficking and claimed that several children have already been rescued:

We've actually recovered children, victims of abduction and exploitation, through that age progression methodology. It's actually remarkable. [It] assists law enforcement identifying, rescuing that child.