California Republicans Build Support for Legislation to Address Fentanyl, Border Crises

By Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.
March 17, 2023Updated: March 17, 2023

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blamed the Biden administration’s border policies for the alarming rise in deaths from fentanyl overdoses in the United States at the recent California Republican Party (CAGOP) convention.

“I want you to think for one moment what this fentanyl is doing, because it is killing Americans,” he told Republicans gathered in Sacramento for the annual CACOP convention last weekend.

Accidental drug overdose from synthetic opioids is now the leading cause of death for people ages 18 to 45, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fentanyl, a deadly opioid coming from China across the southern border into the U.S., is known to make up the vast majority of these overdoses.

More than 71,000 people overdosed from synthetic opioids in 2021, according to the agency.

“That’s equivalent to an airliner crashing every single day in this country—but if an airline crashed two days in a row we would all stand up and say enough of this,” McCarthy said to hundreds of party members attending a March 11 luncheon in Sacramento at the weekend-long convention.

Epoch Times Photo
Costa Mesa police confiscate three large bags of fentanyl—containing smaller distributable bags—in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Jan. 24, 2023. (Courtesy of the Costa Mesa Police Department)

Fentanyl is killing young military-age Americans in the prime years of their lives and careers, and it is weakening the nation, McCarthy said.

“I want you to think of your own life between the ages of 18 and 45,” he told the crowd of more than 500.

Nearly 108,000 people in the United States died from all types of drug overdoses in 2021, an increase of around 15 percent from 2020, according to the CDC.

McCarthy said he recently visited the U.S-Mexico border in Arizona.

“In Tucson, every single person that comes across that border first pays the Sinaloa Cartel. How do I know that? Because nobody comes across that border without wearing a camouflaged outfit,” he said. “I also saw a video of one person trying to come across without paying the Sinaloa Cartel. You know what happened? They were caught, not by the border agents but by the cartel.”

“When you don’t have operational control of your own border, you don’t have a nation,” he said. “My promise to you: We will get control back of our border.”

McCarthy said fentanyl is one of the most deadly drugs to ever reach America’s streets.

Epoch Times Photo
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks in Sacramento, Calif., on March 11, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Later that day at the CAGOP convention, Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) said his district in San Bernardino County has seen a 600 percent increase in fentanyl deaths in the last 18 months. Like McCarthy, he blamed the rising number of fatal overdoses on the current administration’s “disastrous” border policies.

“I’ve been in elected office 18 years now. I had my worst day in elected office last fall, when I had to leave work to console a constituent who had lost both her sons in the same day to the same overdose,” he said. “And as a father of two sons myself, I can’t imagine what that felt like. So, it really brought home to me that this is not a problem that’s occurring in other places. This is a problem that’s occurring right now in our communities.”

Olbernolte is co-sponsoring a legislative bill called the Halt Fentanyl Act, or HR 171, which passed the health subcommittee earlier this month. The bill would change federal law to make fentanyl a Schedule I narcotic and “give our law enforcement agencies more tools to deal with this epidemic,” he said.

“My county sheriff says that the vast majority of fentanyl seized is seized as it comes across the southern border into our community, so we absolutely need to fix the crisis at our southern border,” he said.

Over the last year and a half, Obernolte said he has visited the border south of San Diego and McAllen, Tex., the most heavily illegal crossed section of the U.S-Mexican border, and talked to Customs and Border Patrol agents and immigrants.

“Nobody wins in this situation we’ve got now,” he said. “And unfortunately, the Biden administration is continuing these disastrous policies knowing the damage it’s causing, so have to return to the proven border control policies that we know worked.”

Epoch Times Photo
U.S Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Station Indio in Indio, Calif., on Oct. 18, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Obernolte called for the return of the Remain in Mexico policy enacted under the Trump administration, saying it is a “totally fair policy that says if you want to apply for asylum here, you have to remain in Mexico while your application is processed.”

He also called for the end of catch-and-release policies on illegal immigration, that he said are enabling the fentanyl crisis to continue.

Although fentanyl deaths have risen steeply in places such as San Francisco’s Tenderloin district in recent years, new street drugs such as xylazine, known as “tranq”—an animal tranquilizer often mixed with fentanyl—are surfacing in the bodies of overdose victims in the city.

Trace amounts of tranq were found in four out of 145 people who died of an overdose that were tested between Dec. 1, 2022, and Jan. 15 this year. All four of the cases also involved fentanyl, according to the public health department’s alert released on Feb. 16.

San Francisco County Supervisor Shamann Walton, a progressive Democrat told San Franciscans in late February, the U.S. shouldn’t deport illegal immigrant drug dealers for selling fentanyl, even though the deadly synthetic opioid was largely responsible for nearly 2,000 drug overdose deaths in the city since 2020.

“There’s been a drug issue in this country for a very long time. But there’s no way we’re going to stand by and allow people to say that one race or immigrants are responsible for these fentanyl deaths,” Walton said at a rally on the steps of City Hall on Feb. 28.

Illegal immigrants, many from Honduras, are said by locals to control the illegal fentanyl trade in the Tenderloin.

ICE agent
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent stands in Hawthorne, Calif., on March 1, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Walton defended the city’s sanctuary policies that prohibit city authorities from assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to a proposal by Supervisor Matt Dorsey to add fentanyl crimes to a list of violent crimes the city uses for cooperating with ICE. Dorsey’s proposal aligns with a recent push for a crackdown on fentanyl dealers initiated by District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.

“You cannot violate sanctuary policy for any reason. It goes against the morals of our fabric here in San Francisco, and it also allows people who don’t share our values to persecute people that need us the most,” Walton said at the rally. “People are going crazy over fentanyl because we’re starting to see more white people die from this drug. Where the hell were these people when my mothers and my grandmothers were on crack?”

Meanwhile, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would allow state prosecutors to charge fentanyl distributors to be charged with murder.

Texas Senate Bill 645, introduced by Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican, would reclassify drug overdoses as “poisonings.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott touted the bill on social media on March 15.

“Here we go!” he wrote on Twitter. “You kill Texans with fentanyl. You get charged with murder.”