Fentanyl crisis: Alabama Republicans blame ‘open borders,’ while others blast GOP for playing politics


Two top Alabama Republicans join other GOP peers across the country in blaming a spate of undocumented immigrants arriving at the US-Mexico border for the spike in fentanyl-related deaths.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and US Senator Tommy Tuberville, in separate comments over the past two weeks, blamed President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and record number of border arrests, which they say are a sign of a surge in the number of people entering the country drugs arriving in the United States

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Her comments come as a bipartisan group of 18 state attorneys general sent a letter to Biden last week urging him to reclassify fentanyl as a “weapon of mass destruction.” Marshall was not among those who signed the letter. The signatures came from 14 Republicans, three Democrats and one independent.

“You cannot address the fentanyl crisis without addressing the open border,” Marshall said in a statement to AL.com on Thursday. “The fentanyl problem in Alabama traces right back to the border and to our location on the ‘drug trafficking highway.’

Marshall’s office points to a 2021 drug threat assessment in a six-state region in the South, including Alabama. As part of the assessment, law enforcement officials in the region ranked fentanyl right behind methamphetamine as the region’s top drug threat.

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The report points to Mexican drug trafficking organizations as the main threat to the Gulf Coast region and the main culprits in drug trafficking across the region.

“I will continue to do everything in my power to advocate for a secure border to address the impact of both drug and human trafficking,” Marshall said.

Tuberville said in comments he made in the Senate and to the media that progressive Democratic politicians “don’t want to stop” the fentanyl crisis because they also support open borders policies “because they want new voters.”

“Americans are losing their lives right now,” Tuberville said during recent Senate statements. “Life is being lost every day … we don’t need bureaucrats to talk arguments or waste time, we need a plan, and we need a plan now to stop these drugs.”

The Biden administration announced Friday that it will spend $1.5 billion in federal money to help states manage the opioid crisis and help individuals recover. Among other things, the grant money will fund expanded 24/7 opioid treatment programs and improve access to naloxone drugs, which can quickly reverse an overdose.

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The Alabama Department of Mental Health is set to receive $16.3 million.

“cynical politics”

At least one immigrant rights organization says Republicans are blaming the fentanyl crisis on a spike in border arrests to gain political points ahead of November’s midterm elections.

In a press release in late July, immigration rights lobby organization American’s Voice criticized Republicans for taking a “cynical” approach to linking the fentanyl and opioid crises to the immigration problem.

The group said in a press release that there is no link between the increase in U.S. Customs and Border Protection encounters with immigrants and drug overdose deaths in the U.S

Authorities are poised to make more than 2.3 million immigrant arrests in the government’s 2022 fiscal year, which ends on September 30. That number would break the previous record of 1.7 million arrests set in the last fiscal year.

America’s Voice argues in its press release that 99% of all drugs banned at the border are brought in through ports of entry by car, truck, boat and plane – not on the backs of migrants and asylum seekers.

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The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, DC, reports that over 90% of fentanyl seizures occur at legal border crossings or inside vehicles checkpoints, not along illegal migration routes. The agency says it’s almost always US citizens, subject to less border security control, who can legally cross the border and who act as the best drug smugglers.

According to the Cato Institute, only 0.02% of people arrested by border police for crossing illegally actually possessed fentanyl.

“Republicans have shown they are not interested in looking at immigration solutions or fentanyl solutions,” said Zachary Mueller, policy director at America’s Voice, a group working to help 11 million undocumented Americans on their way to bring full citizenship. In fact, Republicans have actively opposed measures to ban drugs at the border and reduce demand for illicit drugs. It’s just cynical politics, not a fundamental debate.”

Polls show a growing number of Americans believe illegal migrants play a role in bringing the deadly drugs into the United States

A recent NPR-Ipsos poll found that 39% of Americans and 60% of Republicans believe most of the fentanyl entering the US is smuggled by migrants illegally crossing the border.

chemical weapon

fentanyl

During a news conference Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Nogales, Ariz. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP FILE)

The number of overdose deaths from fentanyl-laced drugs is skyrocketing nationwide, leading to what veteran law enforcement officials say is the deadliest drug crisis they’ve ever faced.

Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2021 in the US 107,622 people died from drug overdoses, with 66.2% or 71,238 linked to synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl.

In Alabama, overall drug overdose deaths increased by over 15% between April 2021 and April 2022, significantly more than the national average for that period.

Lawmakers fear that fentanyl’s effectiveness could lead to something far worse.

Tuberville said during his speech earlier this year he was concerned a small dose of fentanyl could kill entire cities.

“A football weighs a pound and just a pound can kill over 200,000 people,” he said.

“We have to do something about it or we’re going to see a disaster in this country if someone puts it in our water supply or in our air. Someone needs to wake up and smell the coffee.”

The attorneys general who signed the September 14 letter to Biden agree. They believe the drug’s lethality equates it to a dangerous chemical weapon rather than a narcotic. They also say that fentanyl is the #1 killer in adults aged 18-45.

The letter said fentanyl was used as a weapon by the Russian army to end a hostage crisis that killed more than 120 hostages in 2002.

“The threat of an enemy of the state using this drug to harm the American people cannot be underestimated,” the letter said.

“Treating this solely as a narcotics control issue has failed to curb the proliferation of ever-increasing amounts of chemicals that can lead to mass casualties,” the letter to Biden said. “Your own DEA administrator has called fentanyl ‘the deadliest threat the DEA has ever seen.’ We should treat it that way – so bold action must be taken.”



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