Bill seeks to beef up Customs' forfeiture authority, shore up Guam borders
Noting the need to equip Guam’s first line of defense to deter illegal activity and curb the entry of drugs into Guam, three senators introduced a bill that would authorize would authorize the Guam Customs & Quarantine Agency to seize and forfeit property acquired in violation of local customs law.
Bill 87-36 was introduced by Sens. Mary Camacho Torres, Telena C. Nelson and Vice Speaker Tina Muña Barnes.
Currently, the CQA possesses limited statutory authority to seize items subject to forfeiture under its laws.
According to a 2019 study on the agency published by the University of Guam Regional Center for Public Policy (UOG-RPP), Guam Customs has received portions of proceeds through equitable sharing with federal law enforcement partners, but is not granted a local procedure for seizing assets under the direct jurisdiction of the agency.
Under Bill 87, the CQA would be granted forfeiture authority similar to the Guam Police Department’s Special Asset Forfeiture Fund (10 GCA, Chapter 79). The proceeds from these properties would be set aside in a local asset forfeiture fund to be utilized exclusively by the agency for future hires of personnel, training, enhancement of facilities, purchasing of equipment, and other needs.
The measure, which is modeled after recommended legislation from the UOG-RPP study and further collaborated on with the CQA, was introduced to address the amount of illegal narcotics shipped to Guam—an activity that has not declined despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment published by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine continues to be Guam’s greatest threat, with most of the illicit substance sent “to criminal associates in Guam, who sell the drug for very large profit margins.”
Just last year, the CQA announced that it had intercepted more than 100 lbs of crystal methamphetamine worth $7.5 million or about $150 per gram.
“At a time when our streets are flooded with methamphetamine and other illegal drugs, we must explore every avenue to assist Guam Customs in dismantling the supply,” said Torres, vice chair of the Committee on Border Protection and Maritime Transportation. “
This bill not only grants the CQA forfeiture authority similar to other law enforcement agencies, but also allows them to set aside funds exclusively for strengthening our first line of defense,” she added.
“For the health and safety of our people, we must prioritize support for our law enforcement officers and provide them the tools and resources necessary to combatting illegal activity and illicit drug operations," said Nelson, chair of the Committee on Border Protection and Maritime Transportation. "This measure will expand the capabilities of those working on the front lines to protect our families and preserve our community welfare."
Muna-Barnes said in the partnership with community stakeholders such as the University of Guam Regional Center for Public Policy, and the support of the men and women of Guam Customs and Quarantine, the legislature is ready to take steps to fill in any gaps that arise to improve government services for our people.
Customs director Ike Peredo welcomed the Customs Forfeiture bill, saying it would provide his office the ability to pursue and use forfeited assets derived from criminal activity crossing Guam border.
"The bill will also serve as a deterrence and a warning to anyone utilizing our border for illicit activity that we will pursue you and all ill-gotten assets,” Peredo said.