The staggering number of car thefts in the United States has reached its highest point since 2008, with over one million vehicles reported stolen in 2022, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
How Smuggled Cars Slip Past U.S. Borders?
This surge in theft not only affects the unfortunate victims but also impacts consumers nationwide. As the crime rates rise, so do the insurance premiums for vehicles, leaving car owners burdened with higher costs.
However, it’s not just local theft that contributes to this alarming statistic. A recent investigation by CBS News has revealed a startling reality – thousands of stolen vehicles are being smuggled out of the country, slipping past U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at major ports of entry.
The CBS News investigation highlighted one point of departure, the Port of Newark in New Jersey, where CBP Officer Dean Panzarino and his team are dedicated to identifying stolen cars concealed within the massive volume of shipping containers passing through the port daily.
Though they rely on years of experience and intuition to spot suspicious containers, they are unable to inspect every single one due to logistical constraints. However, their efforts have yielded success on some occasions, such as the discovery of a container holding three stolen vehicles – a Maserati, BMW, and Ford SUV.
Despite these victories, it is evident that a considerable number of stolen cars slip past CBP officials undetected. Some stolen vehicles end up in Mexico, where license plate readers installed at checkpoints recorded over 2,800 stolen vehicles being driven across the border in a single year.
In comparison, CBP reported confiscating only 144 stolen cars destined for Mexico during the same period. While CBP does conduct outbound examinations at border checkpoints, they face jurisdictional limitations and cannot pursue stolen cars into Mexico.
The problem extends beyond domestic car theft rings. Mexican cartels are increasingly involved in the trade of stolen vehicles, seeking out specific types of cars for their operations. These vehicles are often used to transport cartel soldiers and are employed in criminal activities such as dropping road spikes to evade law enforcement. A three-year operation led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) successfully dismantled a sophisticated theft ring that smuggled cars out of Texas to service the cartels.
Smuggled Cars In U.S.
The ring’s leader had connections to cartels and relied on scouts to identify suitable vehicles in Houston neighborhoods. By collaborating with employees at local car dealerships, the ring obtained vehicle identification information to cut new keys and steal over 600 cars without arousing suspicion.
While efforts are being made to combat this growing problem, it remains a significant challenge. The scale of international trade and the sheer volume of shipping containers make it difficult to inspect each one thoroughly.
CBP officers like Panzarino work diligently, seizing stolen vehicles when they can, but they acknowledge that some cars slip through undetected. The fight against car smuggling requires collaboration between law enforcement agencies, international cooperation, and continued advancements in technology to track stolen vehicles and apprehend those responsible.
As the number of stolen cars continues to rise, authorities and the public must remain vigilant and take necessary precautions to protect their vehicles. Stronger security measures, such as improved tracking technology and cooperation among law enforcement agencies, will be essential in curbing the illicit trade of smuggled cars.