tags: Press Releases

Another Republican Nativist Ploy to Tie Immigration and Fentanyl; Democrats Should Engage and Call Out the Lies

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Washington, DC – Republican candidates are cynically trying to turn the opioid crisis and the urgent problem of fentanyl-induced overdose deaths into a nativist political attack. The issues around fentanyl and the opioid crisis are expansive and multi-dimensional: It is a healthcare issue, an international trade issue, a corporate accountability issue, and a criminal syndicate issue. The one thing it is not is an immigration issue. But that is precisely where Republican candidates are putting their emphasis, falsely blaming the migrants seeking asylum at the border.

Case in point is Republican Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who used conversations about opioid addiction to launch his political career and has made a false connection between fentanyl and migrants an essential piece of his campaign. Vance and his deep-pocketed allies have run numerous ads on the topic,  while Vance has even gone so far as to suggest that President Joe Biden has intentionally allowed fentanyl to enter the U.S. through the southern border to kill off MAGA voters. But Vance’s own work on the opioid crisis is just as fraudulent as his attack line, with his non-profit little more than a front to funnel money to his political allies. 

Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan’s new ad provides an example of going on the offensive and not letting Republicans set the terms of the debate. Ryan’s ad features Dale King, a veteran and a small business owner who hires Ohioans recovering from opioid abuse. King calls out Vance’s selfish failure to do any substantial work on the issue, saying: 

“We are doing our part, J.D. is just playing a part. He created a bogus non-profit, pretended to help then used it to launch his political career. J.D. Vance was in a position to really help people, but he only helped himself.”

While Vance’s record and rhetoric on the opioid crisis are particularly egregious, Ryan’s ad provides an important example that other Democrats can follow. Vance is far from an outlier on this line of attack. The nativist dog-whistle of pinning the blame for fentanyl deaths on immigrants has become a key attack line in the GOP’s midterm strategy. 

The America’s Voice ad tracking project has identified more than 270 different ads that use a version of this dog-whistle from 132 different Republican candidates and top GOP allies across 37 states. Republicans are moving a false and nativist message that distracts from the urgent conversations about solutions and holding the real culprits accountable. But without an alternative, Republicans’ investment may take hold in the minds of voters, however false it might be.

According to Zachary Mueller, America’s Voice Political Director: 

“Democrats can and should draw a stark contrast with Republicans on the challenges of fentanyl and the opioid crisis. It is not the immigration issue Republicans are trying to make. Their divide and distract tactics lack real solutions, and their lies are an insult to the communities suffering from the opioid crisis. Democrats cannot let Republicans fill the public square with nativist lies, they should engage on the issue, call out Republicans’ lies, and propose real solutions to tackle fentanyl-induced overdose deaths and the opioid crisis”


  • Overdose deaths from fentanyl are, unfortunately, not new and dramatically rose under the Trump administration, while interdiction has increased under the Biden administration, as a Washington Post fact check found: “Fentanyl seizures have increased, not fallen, under Biden. Overdose deaths jumped sharply under Trump.”
  • 99% of all drugs interdicted at the border are brought in through ports of entry by cars, trucks, boats, and planes – not by migrants and asylum seekers. As Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the Immigration Policy Center points out, “According to the DEA, “[T]he most common method employed [by cartels] involves smuggling illicit drugs through U.S. POEs [ports of entry] in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor-trailers.” His earlier analysis of U.S. CBP reports found that of 796 pounds of fentanyl seizures captured at the border, all but one pound was captured at an official port of entry or vehicle checkpoint.
  • President Biden made cracking down on drug traffickers a major component of the White House plan to deal with fentanyl. And there have been significant seizures of fentanyl at ports of entry.  However, a significant amount of the Republican’s narrative bizarrely pivots on this logical fallacy, as numerous reports have pointed out.  
  • Notably, the same Republicans, including Sen. Ron Johnson, who spend the most time ranting about the issue voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included the $430 million to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the construction and modernization of land ports of entry. Again, it’s through ports of entry that the cartels ship their deadly product, according to both the DEA and CBP.
  • Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) smartly proposes: “Instead of spending billions of dollars on building a border wall, scapegoating migrants and blustery rhetoric, we must invest in science-backed methods to address this very real public health threat. We should focus on enhanced screening methods for mail and increased resources for our overburdened ports of entries so they can target the concealment of fentanyl.” 
  • As political historian and author of “The Drug Wars In America,” Kathleen Frydl wrote in The Hill, “While it is true that the majority of fentanyl bound for the United States comes from Mexico, the organizations that traffic in it do not risk their product on desperate people facing steep odds and a dangerous crossing. Instead, fentanyl comes to the United States via ostensibly legal crossings at designated ports of entry.” She recommends using trade policies with China and Mexico to curtail the supply. 
  • Check out Republicans’ anti-immigrant ads at the America’s Voice GOP Ad Tracker: http://gopadtracker.com/