Washington D.C. – 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. But, the one thing it is not is an immigration issue. Unfortunately, that is exactly where a cynical GOP puts its emphasis in order to place blame on immigrants and Biden.
Republicans have been trying to make fentanyl overdoses – and fear of the dangerous drug – into a campaign wedge issue to attack Democrats and President Biden. As the U.S. tops 100,000 overdoses per year, most connected to opioids and many connected to fentanyl, American drug policy is of critical importance. Yet, for Republicans, facts, logic, and solutions are secondary to a political narrative that can make immigrants into the boogeyman in the minds of their voters. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump put it, the GOP views fentanyl as “a useful political cudgel.”
Republicans falsely scapegoat migrants seeking asylum at the border, throw around false claims of open borders, and even amplify conspiracy theories that fentanyl is being intentionally imported as a way of killing white people. In this way, the GOP messaging on fentanyl mirrors broader arguments about Biden and Democrats on immigration and border issues, with broad adoption among GOP candidates of conspiracy theories like “invasion” and “white replacement.”
Two essential facts to keep in mind (more quick facts below):
- The illicit drugs like fentanyl entering the US come through points of entry, almost always smuggled in vehicles, usually by U.S. citizens, and not in the backpacks of migrants.
- There is no correlation between a rise of Customs and Border Patrol encounters with immigrants seeking asylum or entry into the United States and overdose deaths in the U.S.
This lie – pinning blame for fentanyl deaths on immigrants and Biden – has become a key attack line in the GOP’s midterm strategy. America’s Voice ad tracking project has identified over 270 different ads that use a version of this dog-whistle from 132 different Republican candidates and top allies across 37 states.
Republicans have employed their fictional fentanyl narrative to underwrite another pernicious lie that there is an ongoing “invasion” at the US/Mexico border. This bluntly absurd conspiracy theory has moved from the fringes of white nationalist circles to a central organizing principle for the GOP and has been the inspiration for multiple terrorist attacks from El Paso to Buffalo. Republicans cite fentanyl drug seizures and overdose deaths to make the spurious claim this is equivalent to a military incursion. It’s not.
If anything, many of the Republican claims around fentanyl unintentionally reveal the overhyped and contradictory nature of their cynical assertions. For example, citing examples of fentanyl seizures by CBP to somehow claim that President Biden has “open borders,” as Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) recently did. As Talking Points Memo put it: “It’s not super clear how a drug bust in which more than 10,000 fentanyl pills were seized at the border (as reported by Michael Humphries, the CBP’s area port director of the Port of Nogales) proves that the President is unleashing a flood of drugs into the country.”
According to Zachary Mueller, America’s Voice Political Director: “The facts on the ground are clear: fentanyl is not an immigration issue, and no matter how many times Republican candidates repeat a lie doesn’t make it true. Currently, Republicans have shown they are uninterested in looking for solutions on immigration or fentanyl. In fact, Republicans have actively opposed measures to help interdict drugs at the border and help alleviate demand for illicit drugs in the U.S. It’s just cynical politics, not a policy debate.
The lies are an insult to communities suffering from the opioid crisis. Republicans, many of whom represent constituents struggling with addiction and its consequences, are receiving false scapegoats and distractions, not a sincere effort to help American communities and families recover.
Republican lies also court violence against immigrant communities. Migrants are not responsible for the fentanyl entering the country, nor are they an invading force. These dehumanizing lies already have a significant body count and are motivating some Americans to grotesque acts of mass violence.
With very little research and fact-checking, reporters can reveal Republicans’ baseless claims about fentanyl. Meanwhile, Democrats must call out the GOP’s game and provide alternatives with real workable solutions. Voters need both accurate information and to know what the real solutions are in order to hold Republicans to account for their dangerous divide and district tactics this November.”
USEFUL BACKGROUND AND FACTS:
While Republican candidates have proven they won’t let the facts get in the way of their political message, here are some quick facts that expose the lie at the heart of the GOP’s dog-whistle:
- 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 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.