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Republicans Try to Blame Opioids on Immigrants, Are Ridiculed by Experts

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Those who oppose immigration have tried to blame immigrants for everything from climate change to epidemics to the Great Recession. This month, Congressional Republicans tried to scapegoat undocumented immigrants for the opioid epidemic, even though it’s the Trump Administration that has failed to appoint a permanent Drug Enforcement Administration head.

At a recent Capitol Hill hearing, GOP lawmakers complained that immigrants in so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions were impeding efforts to combat the opioid crisis.

Their “argument” goes something like this: in their minds, immigrants who commit crimes in sanctuary jurisdictions are not picked up by the police. And in their minds, it’s immigrant drug dealers who are to blame for the opioid crisis. Given these two ridiculously false and completely made-up ideas, immigrants who live in sanctuary jurisdictions are to blame for the opioid epidemic.

As the infamously anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA) put it:

It would seem to me that if tomorrow morning everyone magically woke up in their home country where they could legally reside, it would immediately stop all the illegal drug distribution in America.

That’s an idea, of course, that is so nonsensical and preposterous that multiple law enforcement policy experts called it “insane”, “ridiculous”, and “outrageously stupid.”

There are at least two major things wrong with everything Congressional Republicans were up to in this hearing: 1) the opioid epidemic has little to do with immigrants, and 2) so-called “sanctuary” cities and jurisdictions make life more safe for Americans, not less.

Actual facts about the opioid epidemic

Former senior policy advisory for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Keith Humphreys said opioid addiction and overprescription — not immigration and sanctuary city policies — are the root of the epidemic, and testified:

[the opioid crisis is] . . . most destructive [in] rural areas that don’t have sanctuary cities and indeed generally don’t have cities at all. Recent immigrants are rare, yet opioid addiction is rampant. That’s because the opioid epidemic was made in America, not in Mexico, China, or any other foreign country.

Contrary to the hearing’s premise, Arthur Rizer, who was a federal drug prosecutor with the Department of Justice, Dr. Humphreys, and Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, all said they’ve not seen any evidence that drug dealers target sanctuary cities.

And as Harvard criminologist Thomas Abt told Mother Jones:

This hearing appears to be another in the ongoing effort to tie public safety challenges like violent crime and opioids to the administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

Actual facts about “sanctuary” jurisdictions

As we explain here, so-called “sanctuary” cities and jurisdictions — contrary to Republican slander — make Americans more safe. Immigrants who live in friendly cities and communities know that they can trust the police, which is crucial to securing their cooperation in fighting serious crimes. Immigrants who commit serious crimes or have a warrant out for their arrest are still turned over to ICE; the “sanctuary” designation (which is actually a misnomer) simply means the city will not turn someone over to ICE simply for undocumented. Furthermore, immigrants are far less prone to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

During the hearing, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) testified to the importance of immigrants being able to trust the law enforcement system:

As Satterberg said:

Without the cooperation and trust of undocumented immigrants, we wouldn’t have been able to get some dangerous offenders off the streets. . . We are not safer when victims of crime fear being deported if they call 911, talk to police, or come to the courthouse to get protection. We are not safer when a victim of abuse thinks she must choose between deportation or suffering more violence at the hands of her abuser. Unpunished violent crime threatens us all.