U.S. Border Patrol agents testifying before the Oversight Committee on Tuesday acknowledged that the amount of fentanyl seized at the southern border so far this year is enough to kill nearly five times the population of the U.S.
GOP Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee flagged the heart stopping amounts of illegal drugs with the two Border Patrol Chief witnesses to bring attention to the increasing public health crisis, noting the hundreds of citizens who died from fentanyl overdoses in his Tennessee district alone last year.
Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin noted that 700 pounds of fentanyl was seized in his area alone in 2022, which he noted was enough to kill half the population of the United States.
Burchett recited Department of Homeland Security (DHS) figures that show 9,400 pounds of fentanyl were seized in the country so far this year.
‘And approximately 76 percent, or 7,200 pounds of that was seized coming through our southwest border,’ he added.
DHS figures that show 9,400 pounds of fentanyl were seized in the U.S. so far this year and 7,200 pounds of that was seized coming through our southwest border. Pictured: A display of fentanyl seized by Customs and Border Protection in Arizona over just one weekend. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is much cheaper than other narcotics and often laced into drugs coming over the border
When asking Modlin and fellow witness Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Floria Chavez whether they knew how many people that could kill, they admitted they did not but admitted they were aware it was a high number.
‘I’ll do the math for you,’ Burchett said. ‘It’s 1.6 billion people, with a ‘b’.’
‘That’s enough fentanyl to kill every American almost five times over,’ he noted.
‘And the bottom line is this country was on its way, I felt, to a secure border under President Trump,’ the Tennessee lawmaker said. ‘But President Biden put an end to that on his first day in office. I believe Americans are dying as a result.’
The witnesses admitted that migrants are under the impression that when President Joe Biden took office, the policies at the border changed.
Modlin said that in post-arrest interviews, the captured migrants say they heard that the border is ‘open,’ a claim that has been pushed back on by the Biden administration.
Democrats on the Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing tried to make a distinction during Tuesday’s hearing between the fentanyl coming through legal ports of entries by Americans and that being smuggled between legal entry points.
But Modlin repeatedly said that the way fentanyl makes its way into the country doesn’t matter to the parents whose children are dying at record rates of overdoses – many times unintentional because they were unaware they were ingesting the dangerous synthetic opioid.
It only takes two milligrams of fentanyl to kill a person.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles Field Division, shows some of the seized approximately 1 million fake pills containing fentanyl
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee) noted that the fentanyl seized at the southern border so far this year could kill the population of the U.S. nearly five times over
One witness at the Oversight hearing on Tuesday, Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent John Modlin (left), noted that 700 was seized in his sector alone. Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Floria Chavez (right) agreed with her fellow witness the amount of fentanyl seized at the border this year is unprecedented and could kill a lot of people
Democrats have tried to paint the seizure figures as a win, noting that the fact that the drugs are being taken by U.S. border enforcement agents is proof that they are doing their jobs to get the drug off the streets.
But last year was the highest rate to date of fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths.
Representative Gary Palmer of Alabama noted that fentanyl is just like a ‘weapon’ coming across the border to kill Americans.
‘Fentanyl is a weapon that is coming across our borders that’s killing young people at a record level,’ he said at Tuesday’s hearing.
‘The drug overdose deathrate for people under age 24 is at an all-time-high, especially among the African American community,’ he noted. ‘I have a real hard time understanding why we continue to operate the way that we operate.’
The second hearing for the Oversight Committee in the 118th Congress on Tuesday zeroed-in on handling of migration at the southern border – it was the second hearing focusing on the migration crisis, coming just one week after the Judiciary hearing on the same topic.
Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a black Republican, tore into Democrats for claiming that the Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday on the southern border crisis ‘amplifies white nationalist conspiracy theories’
Texas National Guard troops block immigrants from entering a high-traffic border crossing area along Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas on December 20, 2022 as viewed from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Chairman James Comer defended the hearing, noting that the powerful Oversight Committee’s job is to make sure Congress is addressing issues properly, and that the hearing Tuesday is the first time the panel is hearing from government workers responsible for securing the border.
Republicans said that while Biden ‘won’t talk about the crisis at our southern border’ during Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address, the Oversight Committee would address it in their hearing earlier in the day.
Democrats, however, accused the GOP-led hearing of ‘amplifying white nationalism.’
‘Good morning and good luck to everyone except GOP Oversight members who are using today’s hearing to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories instead of a comprehensive solution to protect our borders and strengthen our immigration system,’ Oversight Democrats tweeted Tuesday.
Representative Byron Donalds of Florida cut into the usual procedure of the hearing because he wanted to respond after Representative Comer read the tweet out loud and bashed it as being ‘out of decorum’ of the congressional rules.
‘I’m just going to cut to the chase,’ said Donalds, who is black. ‘For my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who want to state that we’re using this hearing for White Nationalism, I’m not doing that.’
‘So, if you feel that strongly, come walk to this side of the room and let’s talk about it face-to-face,’ he urged. ‘But leave that kind of silly stuff for somebody else. Don’t bring that here today. This stuff is serious.’
The back-and-forth came after Democrats on the Judiciary Committee made the same claims of racism during their first hearing of the new Congress on Wednesday.
‘The first hearing will showcase the racist tendencies of the extreme MAGA Republican wing of the party that seeks to close the border to refugees from places like Cuba and Venezuela,’ Judiciary Ranking Member Nadler noted in his opening remarks last week.
‘It almost makes me miss their usual obsession with conspiracy theories and the FBI,’ he quipped.
‘I suspect this hearing is also an attempt to distract from the fact that Republicans have failed to pass any meaningful legislation in their first month in the majority.’
Ranking Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland accused the GOP of not engaging in real oversight of the crisis at the border
Chairman James Comer of Kentucky sharply rebuked this claim, noting that the hearing Tuesday is ‘the first time since Joe Biden’s been president that anyone representing the border has been asked to come before this committee’
Republican freshman Representative Wesley Hunt of Texas rebuffed this claim.
The black lawmaker said Democrats too often use racism as a ‘scapegoat.’
‘I’ve been black for a long time, sir, so I get it,’ Hunt said during questioning of El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego after he suggested the term ‘invasion’ is racist.
‘I’ve been a minority in this country for a very long time,’ Hunt said. ‘But this is actually not about race, this is actually an issue of public safety.’
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is stacked with high-profile lawmakers on both the Republican and Democrat side of the aisle.
This includes progressive freshman Representative Maxwell Frost, who had a cordial conversation with Chairman Comer ahead of the hearing, and several far-right hardline immigration lawmakers like Representative Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Comer echoed the message of several other Republicans in Congress by claiming Biden and Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas have sent the message that ‘our borders are open.’
Democratic Ranking Member Jamie Raskin of Maryland, donning a bandana due to hair loss from cancer treatment, tore into Republicans for not holding hearings on the humanitarian crisis at the border when former President Donald Trump was in office – and when reports emerged of children and their parents being separated after crossing illegally.
‘Rather than work with Democrats on these efforts, the MAGA forces in the GOP have chosen to abandon the strong pro-immigration stance of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and instead spread fear about a foreign ‘invasion,’ dangerous paranoia about the racist and anti-Semitic Great Replacement mythology and disinformation about fentanyl, the vast majority of which is brought into our country by American smugglers working for the international drug cartels,’ Raskin alleged.
‘This hearing will become a chance to search for bipartisan agreement rather than another missed opportunity by committee Republicans to join with us in conducting meaningful oversight towards comprehensive reform, turning this into more bad political theater will just extend the long pattern of failure on this question,’ he continued in opening remarks.
Figures released for December show that the number of encounters at the southern border are continuing to rise – and reached a new all-time single month high of 251,487
‘For years, Republicans on this committee refused to conduct oversight of President Trump’s disastrous and cruel border policies. They were silent in 2019 when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection declared a humanitarian crisis at the border.’
Raskin said that Republicans aren’t actually seeking to engage in the real purpose of the Oversight panel.
But Comer denounced this classification.
‘The Republicans’ lack of Oversight?’ the chairman questioned. ‘I want to remind everyone this is the first time since Joe Biden’s been president that anyone representing the border has been asked to come before this committee – the first time.’
‘This crisis has gotten worse every day over two years – this is the first time,’ he added.