This past May, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who may or may not be seeking the GOP presidential nomination, announced that he was engaging in a very GOP political stunt. He deployed 100 Virginia National Guard troops to the southern border to supposedly aid in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star scheme. Youngkin claimed that the deployment, which would come with a multi-million dollar bill footed by taxpayers in the Commonwealth, would combat the fentanyl crisis “devastating Virginia families and communities.” And, not to be overlooked, this is an election year in Virginia – all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the State Senate are on November 7.
But records spanning a number of weeks reveal that Youngkin’s mission uncovered exactly zero amounts of fentanyl, an NBC4 Washington investigation has found.
“Through an open records request, the I-Team obtained invoices and daily ‘situation reports’ detailing the guard’s July deployment to Eagle Pass, Texas,” the report said. “None of the reports, which outline what the guard observed each day, indicates troops encountered or seized fentanyl.” NBC4 Washington further pointed to a September interview where Maj. Sidney Leslie, the officer in charge of the Virginia deployment, admitted troops “haven’t seen (fentanyl) in this particular area.”
The findings from NBC4 Washington’s investigation and admission from the deployment leader are no surprise to anyone who is honest about the fentanyl crisis. While it’s true that fentanyl is a serious and urgent issue in Virginia and communities across the nation, Youngkin’s deployment – along with deployments by other GOP governors around the country – do nothing to address this crisis.
The facts: the vast majority of fentanyl is seized at ports of entry in commercial trucks and passenger cars, not in the backpacks of asylum-seekers looking to present themselves to Border Patrol agents. The traffickers are also almost entirely U.S. citizens and permanent residents, not migrants. Simply put, fentanyl is not an immigration issue. If Youngkin were a serious person truly interested in combating the scourge of fentanyl, he’d encourage real solutions, like using the tools of international trade as outlined by historian Kathleen Frydl.
Or he could have listened to Kemp Chester, Senior Advisor to the Director of National Drug Control Policy, who while testifying before Congress said: “Ending the opioid crisis does not start, and it won’t end at the border.” The nation’s top law enforcement officers are clear, tackling the fentanyl crisis means tackling sophisticated organized crime operations operating across 100 counties, using the tools of international trade to deal with precursor chemical shipments and cracking down on money laundering operations. That enforcement must be aided by treatment and prevention efforts in the U.S. Notably, none of the above has anything to do with immigration policy or sending troops to the border.
Instead, Youngkin, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster have been among elected officials using this crisis to cynically advance their own agendas. Following a July visit to the deployment, Youngkin’s office released a number of full-resolution campaign-style photos to promote the stunt, including multiple angles of the governor posing in a military-style aircraft with some wannabe Tom Cruise sunglasses. Perhaps they were to shield his eyes from the blinding reality that his border stunt was turning up nothing.
”This latest political stunt won’t keep us safe — ripping National Guard from their jobs and families to prop up your campaign is pretty low,” Virginia Delegate Dan Helmer, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, ripped after Youngkin announced the publicity stunt earlier this year. “Glenn Youngkin sent the Virginia National Guard to Texas to do border control and he is still polling at ZERO for the Republican nomination for President,” state Sen. Louise Lucas mocked in July.
Virginia is among states named in an investigation by government watchdog American Oversight, which is probing “border enforcement initiatives in Texas and Arizona that rely on legally dubious justifications for what amounts to taxpayer-funded political stunts.” Virginia’s deployment cost anywhere from $2 million to $3.1 million, according to differing reports. But Abbott is spending roughly that amount every single week. American Oversight further notes Abbott’s “rhetoric echoes a legally dubious theory that anti-immigration activists and officials have sought to use as rationale for using military force at the border: that unauthorized immigration constitutes an ‘invasion.’”