Washington, DC – Heading into the final stretch of the midterm election cycle, Republicans are pushing a plainly false narrative about fentanyl and the staggering rise of opioid-related overdose deaths as a core part of their relentless fearmongering and lies about the border and to redirect focus away from other issues. Below are key points on why fentanyl is not an immigration issue and the dangers of this GOP political attack:
- Fentanyl is a serious and urgent issue, but it is NOT about migrants seeking asylum or evidence of “open borders,” as the GOP claims. The synthetic fentanyl coming across the border is smuggled through legal points of entry largely by U.S. citizens.
- Republicans’ false political narrative distracts from the urgent need for multifaceted policy solutions to address the opioid crisis to save American lives.
- Republicans’ false narrative on fentanyl undergirds their attempt to turn the white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy into policy.
Point 1: While there are undeniable challenges presented by both forced global migration and the illicit trade of synthetic fentanyl, the issues and policy solutions are not related:
- Fentanyl comes in through ports of entry, not unauthorized migrants: 90% of all drugs are brought in through ports of entry in commercial vehicles and passenger cars, not in the backpacks of migrants crossing on foot and looking to present themselves to Border Patrol agents in order to apply for asylum. The Drug Enforcement Agency says that “the most common method” of smuggling fentanyl into the country is “through U.S. [ports of entry] in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor-trailers.”
- Fentanyl is largely trafficked by citizens: The evidence points to the fact that almost all of the fentanyl smuggled into the U.S. is done by U.S. citizens and paid for by U.S. citizens who are the ultimate consumers. The organizations that traffic in hard drugs do not risk their product on desperate people facing steep odds and a dangerous crossing who are seeking out U.S. authorities to whom they can surrender themselves while asking for asylum.
- Republican attempts to portray the scourge of fentanyl as evidence of a porous border get the facts purposefully wrong. As CNN’s political fact checker Daniel Dale noted: “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 … 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.”
Point 2: Synthetic fentanyl is a serious problem but one that did not start with the Biden administration. Meanwhile, Republicans’ political disinformation distracts from the urgent need for solutions to the devastating effects of fentanyl, which kills one hundred thousand Americans each year and devastates families and communities across the country:
- The exponential spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths began in 2015, and continued to its tragic exponential growth throughout the Trump administration. This year, we are likely to meet the tragic milestone of over 100,000 overdose deaths in a single year.
- The Biden administration has stepped up enforcement. Fentanyl seizures have increased under the Biden administration which made cracking down on drug traffickers a major component of the White House plan. This increased interdiction is not, as Republicans absurdly suggest, evidence of “open borders” but the exact opposite.
- Republicans who are politicizing the issue have largely failed to be a part of the solution – including voting against funding for ports of entry modernization and inspection. Most Republicans 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. Improvements like “multi-energy portal” screening technology would increase the ability for illicit narcotics seizures at the nation’s borders without significantly impacting the massive amount of legal trade that runs through those same POEs. Without the upgraded infrastructure, fewer than five percent of trucks are being screened with the new technology.
- Experts advise the tools of international trade are needed to seriously address the issue of fentanyl smuggling, as border enforcement alone will not stop it. The Trump administration’s ineptitude may have made the problem more acute: Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), a close Trump ally, criticized the former President for an agreement from Chinese President Xi Jinping that stopped the shipment of the chemical ingredients needed to make fentanyl to the U.S. but not to Mexico.
- Interdiction alone will not solve the fentanyl overdose mortality problem, public health experts agree after decades of fighting the “war on drugs.”. A combination of approaches, including demand reduction and greater adoption of policies and procedures to make drug use less lethal, combined with law-enforcement and interdiction, are what is needed.
Point 3: The idea that asylum seekers and migrants looking for freedom, safety and the American dream constitutes a literal “invasion” would be laughable if that lie hadn’t already inspired multiple domestic terrorists to murder dozens of Americans. Now, the GOP has embraced this deadly lie with some leading voices pushing for a “declaration of invasion” while using the false GOP narrative around fentanyl as the rationale. Adding the scourge of fentanyl deaths to the equation ratchets up the notion that the alleged “invasion” is a matter of life and death.
- One of the most vocal Republicans pushing the invasion declaration is the short-tenured Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli who misuses the issues of fentanyl to support his argument, writing: “There can be no disputing that the influx of well over 1.3 million illegal immigrants this calendar year alone and thousands of pounds of fentanyl and other deadly narcotics, facilitated by the widespread human trafficking efforts of violent international drug cartels, constitutes an invasion of the southern border of the United States.”
- Pushing the white nationalist fiction in a messaging bill last summer, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) claimed “Whereas authorities have already seized over 6,000 pounds of fentanyl—enough to kill every American four times over—in 2021, surpassing the 4,700 pounds seized in the entirety of 2020” as justification for states to declare an invasion at the border.
- Succumbing to pressure from his right, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order invoking “invasion” language and citing “thousands of apprehensions and criminal arrests, along with the seizure of thousands of weapons, hundreds of millions of lethal doses of fentanyl” as key, if misleading, justification for his order.
Fentanyl is a talking point in almost every candidate debate and Republicans have spent millions of dollars on hundreds of political ads going on the attack over fentanyl issues as part of their relentless fearmongering and falsehoods around the border and immigrants. America’s Voice ad tracking project finds that Republican campaigns have run over 370 different paid ads and 128 campaign emails that make the spurious connection between immigration and illicit drugs. 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, but political attack has eclipsed policy solutions for Republicans once again.