The Biden administration and the Justice Department are taking decisive action against international fentanyl traffickers, from China to Mexico, to stop the deadly flow of fentanyl from taking the lives of Americans. Meanwhile, contemptible figures on the political right continue to daily peddle disinformation about the very real fentanyl crisis with a misplaced and myopic focus on the southern border. Falsely asserting the urgent fentanyl crisis, which has become a leading cause of death for young Americans, is an immigration issue that can be principally solved with harsh crackdowns at the border is disinformation that pollutes the pressing need for solutions.
This week, the Biden administration announced a slew of criminal and economic actions against a number of China-based companies and individuals “involved in the international proliferation of illicit drugs,” including the synthetic materials used to create synthetic fentanyl.
The Department of Justice unsealed eight indictments “charging China-based companies and their employees with crimes relating to fentanyl and methamphetamine production, distribution of synthetic opioids, and sales resulting from precursor chemicals.” The actions were unveiled the same day the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against 28 individuals and entities “involved with the international proliferation of illicit drugs, including a China-based network responsible for the manufacturing and distribution of ton quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and MDMA precursors.”
The sweeping actions are part of the Biden administration’s strategy for combating this crisis, which included distributing the supply chain of drug trafficking networks. They come as officials are also visiting Mexico, “whose cartels are part of the global trafficking network, for meetings expected to involve discussion of the drug threat,” the Associated Press reported.
“We know that this network includes the cartels’ leaders, their drug traffickers, their money launderers, their clandestine lab operators, their security forces, their weapons suppliers, and their chemical suppliers,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the report. “And we know that this global fentanyl supply chain, which ends with the deaths of Americans, often starts with chemical companies in China.” According to the New York Times, Mexican officials were expected to urge “the Biden administration to do more to keep American made firearms from making it into the hands of the Mexican cartels.”
This all adds up to continued confirmation that the fentanyl crisis has nothing to do with immigration, which is what Republicans have been falsely asserting for years. Instead, penalties are just one prong of actual tools to combat the fentanyl supply chain, which also include public health and foreign policy solutions. The bipartisan FEND Off Fentanyl Act, introduced by 2024 GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, targets the financial assets of synthetic opioid traffickers and suppliers, admitting Republicans know this is an issue that cannot be solved solely at the border.
These most recent actions should help move the conversation off the counterproductive one of a border or immigration policy failure to a more accurate and helpful conversation about using the international tools of trade and diplomacy to begin to combat the crisis at the source.
But in a cynical and political ploy that only exacerbates this drug crisis, most are ignoring these solutions and have decided to instead turn it into a dual attack against Democrats and immigrant communities, blaming both, but especially the latter, for the tragic deaths of thousands of Americans. In his recent analysis at the Washington Post, columnist Philip Bump noted that for Republicans, using this deadly crisis as a political cudgel is far more easy than trying to actually solve it.
California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, recently ousted as House Speaker by some of the most extreme members of his caucus, used fentanyl as a main excuse to push support for the anti-immigrant H.R. 2, known as the Child Deportation Act.
“Most of the bill, though, centers on limiting the ingress of migrants to the United States,” Bump noted. “Taken all together, the bill effectively eliminates asylum at our borders,” Immigration Hub Executive Director Kerri Talbot told The Post’s Greg Sargent. “That’s been enshrined in law for over 40 years.” The unspoken goal of the Child Deportation Act is to severely limit non-white migration to the nation, plain and simple, and Republicans’ demagoguery around the fentanyl crisis is but a tool in the toolbox to try to achieve this white supremacist vision.
But even if this extreme bill has no pathway in the U.S. Senate (for now), Republicans’ reckless rhetoric around fentanyl is deadly. America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller has noted how Republicans constantly point to fentanyl overdose deaths “as justification for asserting migrants constitute a literal invasion,” even amplifying conspiracy theories that fentanyl is being intentionally imported as a way of killing white people.
The reality is that when elected officials and candidates say that American kids are dying and that it’s the fault of non-white migrants (most fentanyl is trafficked into the U.S. by U.S. citizens), they are using the fentanyl issue to further gin up political violence. The racist mass shootings in El Paso in 2019 and Buffalo in 2022 are just two tragic examples of “invasion” and “great replacement” theory paranoia. Despite this deadly violence far too many Republicans cite the fentanyl overdose deaths as justification for embracing the white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy theory.
“The problem of fentanyl overdoses has been building for years” and through multiple presidential administrations, Mueller noted, initially fueled by the likes of Purdue Pharma and Johnson and Johnson, which enriched itself through an “‘aggressive’ campaign to promote the use of opioids in general and OxyContin in particular,” Dr. Art Van Zee said in the American Journal of Public Health in 2009.
The exponential spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths began in 2015, with serious growth seen throughout Donald Trump’s administration, Mueller continued. The indicted former president made clear in an interview with NBC News last month that he knew China was a top player in this humanitarian crisis, but didn’t pursue a deal with the Chinese government when given the opportunity, a decision that has certainly led to further tragic U.S. deaths. Yet, Republicans continue to point the finger at the border as the source of this crisis, even as a few do admit the truth out loud.
“I don’t want to fool the American people into thinking that if I send National Guard to the Southern border, that will solve the problem,” former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in remarks reported by the New York Times.
But for most other Republican governors, they believe deploying service members to dangerous and wasteful political stunts to advance party-wide anti-immigration messaging is more politically advantageous, and far easier than coming up with actual solutions. This too adds to the death toll in communities across our nation – and one that’s completely preventable.