(The Center Square) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about fentanyl seizures at the southern border contradicts testimony given by U.S. Customs and Border Protection chiefs and claims made by the White House about designating Mexican cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Blinken at Wednesday’s hearing if he agreed that fentanyl was coming from Mexico and “is killing Americans by the tens of thousands.” Blinken replied, “It is. And it’s also killing Mexicans.”
Graham also asked if it was time to “change our policy” addressing cartel violence and the fentanyl crisis “because it’s not working? Or do you think it is working? Do you believe that our policies towards drug cartels are working?”
He replied, “They need to be more effective. … One way to do that is making sure we have, for example, the technology on our borders to detect and intercept the fentanyl.”
Blinken also repeated a claim made by many Democrats that “96% of the fentanyl coming to the United States is coming through legal ports of entry” and that by expanding technology there, more would be seized.
Last month, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, claimed 90% of fentanyl was being seized at ports of entry.
However, Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief John Modlin replied that half of fentanyl seizures occur in the field, not at ports of entry. In his sector alone, agents seized 700 pounds of fentanyl in 2022, about half of which was in the field.
“To give you an idea of the lethality of fentanyl, that’s enough to kill everyone in Arizona 21 times or basically half the population of the United States,” he said. Agents seized 52% at the port of entry and the rest in the field after “being backpacked across the border” between ports of entry, Modlin said.
Later that month, Arizona state troopers seized enough fentanyl to kill nearly 800,000 people found in a single pickup truck roughly 150 miles north of the border.
Texas law enforcement officers working through Operation Lone Star between ports of entry have seized enough fentanyl to kill everyone in the United States, Gov. Greg Abbott has said. As of March 17, OLS officers have seized over 367 million lethal doses of fentanyl, according to his office.
Florida law enforcement officers also seized enough fentanyl in a few months last year alone to kill the state’s entire population. Fentanyl seizures were linked to a Mexican cartel network, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said.
Graham also asked Blinken if he would designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
“How about this idea – rather than just interdicting at the border, we go to the source and declare Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law, would you consider that?,” he asked.
“Yes we’d certainly consider that,” Blinken replied.
His answer conflicted with what White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters two weeks ago that “Designating these cartels as FTOs would not grant us any additional authorities that we don’t really have at this time.”
FTO designation isn’t dependent upon Congress or the president. Under 8 US Code, Section 1189, the secretary of state has the authority to designate an organization as an FTO. Doing so gives state and federal agencies the authority to freeze assets, deny entry to cartel members and pursue stricter punishments.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last September was the first governor to designate Mexican cartels as FTOs. He’s since called on the Biden administration to do the same but hasn’t received a response, his office told The Center Square.
“Texas designated Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations last year,” Abbott said earlier this month. “I’ve repeatedly urged Biden to do the same. … It’s past time for Biden to step up and call these cartels what they are: terrorists.”
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares led a coalition of 22 attorneys general last month calling on the president to designate cartels as FTOs. Instead, they argue, Biden’s plan includes having “more drug detection machines,” expanding inspections of cargo to “stop pills and powder [coming in through] the border,” “working with couriers, like FedEx, to inspect more packages for drugs,” and implementing “strong penalties to crack down on fentanyl trafficking.”
U.S. Sens. Rick Scott, R-Florida, and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, introduced the Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act, which Moody said would “do the job Biden refuses to do – protect the American people.” She said the president “preventing the Mexican drug cartels from being designated federal terrorist organizations (which they are) [is] further evidence that he is the Trafficker-in Chief.”
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