February 27, 2024

Opinion: It’s time to address our fentanyl epidemic with solutions equivalent to the problem

By U.S. Senator Joni Ernst

Earlier this month, during a visit to the California-Mexico border, Border Patrol agents told me that they had recently been forced to release a smuggler caught with 50 pounds of fentanyl — enough to kill 11 million Americans — because that sector of the border lacked the capacity to detain them.

According to these agents, our border is so overrun that not every apprehended criminal can be detained. Beds in detention facilities are being prioritized based on the seriousness of the crime committed — and space is full every single day.

These agents detailed the stress they undergo daily. Simply put, the Biden administration is not only failing our men and women in green — they are failing the American people. Their policies have incentivized a greater flow of illegal immigration, human smuggling, and lethal drugs.

Tackling the fentanyl epidemic is complicated; but complicated can’t mean complacency. Complicated should not deter us from taking action. Here’s what I propose.

Step 1: More resources for our Border Patrol agents

Border Patrol is in desperate need of more resources. During my recent visits to both San Diego, Calif., and McAllen, Texas, I heard how our agents are overwhelmed and undermanned. In San Diego specifically, their Port of Entry has 34 lanes of traffic, with 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians crossing each day. Drug-detecting canine units expedite the screening process, but there are not nearly enough units to ensure each car is properly screened.

In desolate regions of the border, like in Texas, our agents rely on surveillance technology. However, the methods they deploy are significantly out of date, and they often wait months on parts to upgrade their capabilities to spot migrants and cartel activity. Giving our Border Patrol what they need to do their job is an easy ask, and one that my Democratic colleagues should support.

Step 2: An interagency task force

The Biden administration should create an interagency task force — located in Mexico — to curb the flow of illegal drugs, namely fentanyl. It’s a similar strategy that has been deployed elsewhere in the world to combat other hard narcotics, such as cocaine. Allowing more than 30 U.S. agencies to operate in Mexico would ensure maximum coordination and attention to combat the fentanyl epidemic.

More specifically, the interagency lead should be a Cabinet-level position, and in near-daily contact with the White House, working to improve information sharing and to reduce the fentanyl supply. The Office of National Drug Control Policy previously functioned in a cabinet-level capacity, but the role was de-elevated. Creating a task force with a clear mission is going to take assertive and aggressive leadership by this administration, and I’m hopeful they might actually listen and do it.

Step 3: Prosecute the criminals fueling these crises

Finally, we need to start properly prosecuting the criminals fueling our border crisis and fentanyl epidemic. Currently, cartels use “spotters” — individuals who aid their illegal activity at the border by surveilling Border Patrol. Spotters monitor stretches of the open border and report on Border Patrol movements, equipment locations, and other law enforcement activity. I say we crack down on anyone who aids and abets these dangerous cartels by increasing fines and jail time.

We also need to heighten the charges for drug dealers who distribute deadly fentanyl and the individuals profiting from the fentanyl epidemic. Fentanyl continues to kill Americans at a rate of 196 people a day. If a criminal willingly distributes fentanyl to unknowing victims and that individual overdoses or dies, they should face felony murder charges.

We are way past-due for a response that is equivalent to the problem. With the record-breaking border crossings we’ve seen over the last two years, we cannot afford to waste any more time. I hope President Biden will agree, and work with us to take action.