WASHINGTON — Members of the new GOP-led House Committee on Homeland Security debated the issue of fentanyl at the border at the first hearing of the new Congress, saying Department of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and the rest of President Joe Biden’s administration is to blame for a “crisis” at the southwest border.
But David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, refuted the Republican representatives’ argument. According to his testimony, the vast majority of fentanyl is confiscated from U.S. citizens at ports of entry or vehicle checkpoints, not undocumented immigrants.
“The committee is right to investigate the scourge of fentanyl deaths,” Bier said. “But immigrants are not the cause.”
The hearing comes a day after the Supreme Court was originally scheduled to hear a case about Title 42, a pandemic-era health order that permits border officers to turn migrants away due to COVID-19.
While the case was dropped after Biden’s announcement that all COVID-19 emergency regulations will end May 11, Title 42 remains controversial. Biers said policies like Title 42, which severely restrict access to legal entry into the U.S., encourage higher rates of undocumented immigration and are therefore more likely to lead to drug trafficking.
“A freer, more orderly and more lawful immigration system creates a freer, wealthier and safer country,” Bier said.
Ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) echoed Bier’s point, criticizing his Republican colleagues’ proposed solutions to the recent influx of immigration as hypocritical and un-American.
He also referenced H.R.29, a bill that would give the DHS secretary the power to stop almost all immigration into the U.S. — including asylum seekers. While the new Republican House majority promised to bring it to the floor within the first few weeks of the year, they were forced to remove it from the docket after it failed to garner support within the party.
“America has long welcomed those coming to our shores, seeking protection from persecution, and we are a better nation for it,” Thompson said. “Turning our backs on asylees would be turning our backs on who we are as a country.”
Other witnesses at the hearing included Rebecca Kiessling, a mother of two fentanyl victims, Mark Lamb, an Arizona sheriff considering a senate run, and Robert Trenschel, the president of a medical center near the Mexican border in Arizona. All three were heavily critical of the current administration’s border policies, saying the fentanyl crisis—which they attribute to drug traffickers crossing the border— has devastated their communities.
Eleven Republican members of the HHS visited El Paso, Texas this weekend for a “border bootcamp,” led by Committee Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.). Other Republicans have recently called for Mayorkas to be impeached.
Green continuously characterized the fentanyl seizures as Mayorkas’s “failure.” He said the Biden administration’s assertion that they have the southwest border under operational control is untrue, adding that immigration issues are impacting non-border states such as his own.
“This hearing should be a wakeup call for committee members to end the madness and work together to secure our southern border,” Green said.