In one 48-hour period last week, Customs and Border Patrol officers thwarted three separate attempts to smuggle fentanyl into the U.S. at the Paso Del Norte Border Crossing in Texas.
None were migrants, despite the narrative being peddled across MAGA world that immigrants bring the deadly drug with them as they pour across a supposedly open border.
All three—a 20-year-old who had 37 pounds stashed in a spare tire, a 45-year-old who had .29 pounds in her vagina, and a 26-year-old who had .16 pounds similarly concealed—were American citizens.
In fact, nearly 90 percent of those arrested for trafficking in fentanyl are Americans—roughly the same percentage of interceptions at legal crossing points such as Paso Del Norte. Virtually none of the asylum seekers detained at the border are found with the drug.
And yet right-wing figures from House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) to U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) stridently seek to link migrants and the fentanyl epidemic.
Vance and Stefanik have even sought to use that fiction to perpetrate another. They both said that Trump was really speaking about fentanyl when he said in December that the migrants are “poisoning the blood of our nation.”
“He said illegal immigrants were poisoning the blood of this country, which is objectively and obviously true to anybody who looks at the statistics about fentanyl overdoses,” Vance said.
“Our border crisis is poisoning Americans through fentanyl,” Stefanik said.
In truth, Americans are poisoning Americans.
The truth, though, doesn’t matter to Johnson. In his first floor speech as speaker on Jan. 31, he conflated the overwhelmingly American traffickers and the migrants, speaking of fentanyl being “smuggled across the border in droves.”
Migrants are the ones who arrive in droves, turning themselves in by the thousands, seeking asylum. Far more often fentanyl is smuggled in a lone vehicle such as the 2013 Chrysler found to have 47.74 pounds of fentanyl when its driver sought to cross the entry point in Eagle Pass, Texas on Dec. 16. (Customs has not released the citizenship of the driver.)
Johnson led a congressional delegation to Eagle Pass on Jan. 3. That is the same spot on the Rio Grande River where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has used state cops and the Texas National Guard to take over a municipal park and string razor ribbon. Odds are that has done next to nothing to stem the flow of fentanyl.
In his maiden floor speech, Johnson spoke somberly about fentanyl poisoning as “the leading cause, the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 46.” He mentioned a number of fatalities in his home state.
“In Slidell, Louisiana, just last week, a precious 2-year-old child was found dead in her home with fentanyl in her system,” he said. “Moms and dads, brothers and grandmothers, all of us are losing loved ones.”
If Johnson is as heartsick over this as he tries to sound, how can he be complicit in a political effort obscure the problem’s reality and thereby hamper addressing it? He and the rest of MAGA are seeking to make migrants appear a menace to boost Trump’s chances at the polls. Is Johnson really so cynical that he is trading lives such as that 2-year-old’s for votes?
The nicest thing you can think about Johnson, Vance, and Stefanik is that they just don’t get it. Or maybe they just don’t want to address a problem that does not have a simple solution.
David Luckey, a senior international and defense researcher at RAND who participated in The Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking’s study of the fentanyl problem, told The Daily Beast on Saturday: “There’s not a single silver bullet that’s gonna stop this from happening. We need to do things across three dimensions: supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction if we’re to save lives.”
He suggested that supply should be a focus.
“Every 55 gallon drum of precursor chemicals that we can prevent from being shipped from China to Mexico stops millions of potentially lethal doses at the user level,” he said. “Is it easier to stop millions of doses from reaching their intended recipient, or would it be easier to stop one 55 gallon drum of precursor chemical?”
He said that he and his colleagues determined that it takes very little fentanyl to supply the annual demand in America.
“Basically, what we came up with was about three large pickup truck loads of pure fentanyl will supply the entire U.S. demand for a year,” he said. “Three pickup truck loads from the tons and tons of goods that cross the border.”
At least the bipartisan border bill backed by President Joe Biden would have provided 1,500 more Customs officers. It also would have funded 100 out-sized x-ray machines to screen vehicles at points of entry—where almost all fentanyl comes into the country.
In declaring that the bill had no chance of passage, Johnson used the same phrase employed to describe an ever-growing number of Americans who are poisoned by fentanyl.
“Dead on arrival.”