tags: Press Releases

The Lies and Scare Tactics in GOP Fentanyl Arguments Are Facing the Stubborn Facts

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Washington, DC – Republicans have spent millions of dollars in hundreds of political ads going on the attack over fentanyl issues as part of their relentless fearmongering and falsehoods around the border and immigrants. Yet, as many are pointing out recently, the GOP claims and attacks get the facts wrong – and increasingly exposing Republican duplicity in the process. A few recent Senate candidate debate exchanges offer examples.

First, the facts.

A Washington Post analysis by Phillip Bump, “Most fentanyl is seized at border crossings — often from U.S. citizens,” captures how Republicans’ relentless political attacks. 

“One line of political rhetoric that’s proved particularly popular as the midterm elections approach goes something like this: President Biden’s open-border policy has allowed dangerous drugs like fentanyl to flood into the country, imperiling our children. 

The evidence for this is often patchy, with Republicans — generally the people articulating this line of argument — often pointing to things like drug seizures as evidence … But there’s another point that’s worth drawing out here. Seizures are a dubious metric not only because those drugs will not be sold in the United States but also because of where and how those seizures occur: usually at border checkpoints and often in the possession of U.S. citizens.

…the idea of smuggling fentanyl into the country is to get the drugs in quickly without detection. Paying a citizen to drive them in makes more sense in that regard than having a noncitizen lug them across the Rio Grande. But reality isn’t always politically useful. Using the specter of fentanyl (the dangers of which are also overhyped) as a way to hand-wring about immigration is obviously useful.”

In late September, CNN’s political fact checker Daniel Dale offered similar reminders:  

 “Republicans also keep citing the large quantities of fentanyl being seized at the border, but fentanyl being seized is more proof the border is not actually open. And here’s a critical point almost never mentioned in GOP talking points: the vast majority of the seizures happen at the legal ports of entry where cars and buses and trucks line up to enter. In the vast majority of the time, it is being brought in by U.S. citizens or legal residents. 

About 85 percent of the fentanyl seized at the Southwest border this fiscal year has been seized at legal ports, and the other 15 percent or so tends to be seized at Border Patrol checkpoints inside the U.S. not from migrants walking across. So, the image Republicans are trying to create is a migrant sneaking through the desert with a sack of drugs, that happens in some tiny percentage of cases, but it is certainly not the predominant story.”

In addition to getting the facts purposefully wrong, many Republican incumbent candidates running hard on fentanyl and related border scare tactics had the opportunity to actually move us closer to addressing the complicated challenges of addressing fentanyl – yet voted against legislation to do so. Many of the same Republicans who are attempting to politicize the opioid crisis voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included $430 million to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the construction and modernization of land ports of entry.

In the debates for the Senate, Republicans continue to push the false attack line, but Democrats bring the facts: 

In Arizona, GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters tried to pin the blame for fentanyl  overdose deaths on supposed “open borders.”   In response, Senator Mark Kelly named the real problem at the border – commercial traffic, not migrants: “fentanyl is out of control and heartbreaking…how it gets smuggled through ports of entry… you know what I did? I went back to Washington, and I got the money appropriated to rebuild our ports of entry. You know why? Because right now if you go down there it’s twelve lines in Nogales as an example. Only one of those lanes has the technology, the x-ray machine that can detect the fentanyl…Because of the work I have done in the United States Senate and getting this money to Arizona, every single one of these lanes will have the technology.” Most Senate Republicans voted against the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, which includes vital funding for technology at ports of entry.     

In Iowa, incumbent Republican Senator Chuck Grassley also falsely blamed fentanyl deaths on alleged “open borders.” But in response, Mike Franken brought the facts: “regarding the fentanyl coming across the border, a vast amount of it is being shipped in in packages via DHL, mail and the like. That is well known…it isn’t being humpbacked by… undocumented people crossing the border, it comes across in traffic and merchandise, in trucks, etc. Let’s be honest about that.”   

In Wisconsin, GOP Senator Ron Johnson will debate Democrat Mandela Barnes Friday evening and will likely deploy the same false attack line his Republican Senate candidate allies have used. He has deployed this baseless attack several times before. Barnes, like his colleagues in Arizona and Iowa, should be ready with the facts to expose the lie and explain the uncomfortable reality that despite his bluster, Sen. Johson voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides upgraded technology to detect drugs being smuggled in vehicles at ports of entry.. 

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

“Republicans won’t let the facts get in the way of their nativist fearmongering. Their line on fentanyl is a lie. Fentanyl is not an immigration issue. Fentanyl is smuggled in mostly through legal points of entry, mostly by U.S. citizens, paid for by demand emanating from U.S. citizens. The migrants seeking asylum, safety, jobs and the American dream who are coming to the border are not cogs in the fentanyl importation machine.

But what is doubly tragic about this divide and distract tactic from Republicans on fentanyl is that we need solutions, not scapegoats. Synthetic fentanyl is a serious issue that needs urgent action from our elected leaders. Instead of working to support Americans through this crisis or working with Democrats to go after fentanyl importation where the drugs are actually entering, Republicans would rather demagogue the issue in the hopes it will deliver them political power. 

This line of attack should be a tell. Republicans like Grassley, Masters, and Johnson do not have a clear policy in mind and many have opposed solutions that work, so they turn to lies, fear tactics and xenophobia, believing they won’t be called out or held to account.”