Hundreds of children in overcrowded spaces. Looks of exasperation on the faces of those working on the ground. A porous border susceptible to trafficking of all kinds.
These were some of the sights I witnessed during my recent trip to El Paso, Texas, to see the border crisis firsthand with a bipartisan group of senators, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the alarming numbers. Temporary housing facilities are averaging close to 300 percent and 400 percent capacity, with one even at 1,556 percent capacity. The average time in custody for unaccompanied children has risen to 136 hours, nearly double the legal amount. And the Department of Homeland Security projects that we are on pace for more illegal border crossings than we’ve have had in the past 20 years.
But still, our nation’s southwest border in Texas is a long way from our state. So why should West Virginians care?
The most immediate reason is the condition of children, some as young as 5 or 6 years old, whom cartels are taking to the border knowing the Biden administration’s relaxed policies give them a good chance to make it into the United States.
It was heartbreaking to see these children used as pawns, forced to travel dangerous journeys, now staying in overcrowded facilities where coronavirus cases continue to flare up.
But, just like Texas or Arizona, we also must view West Virginia as a border state, as this crisis continues to fuel our nation’s drug epidemic.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, our state and nation made real improvements on the addiction front. For the first time in 29 years, drug overdose deaths decreased nationwide in 2018. We made progress because of the work we did on all fronts in this fight, such as expanding treatment and recovery programs, increasing interdiction efforts through the mail and at our ports, and enhancing technology at our points of entry along our southern border.
It’s exactly why we cannot take our eyes off the ball when it comes to stopping the flow of these poisons that pour into our country, make their way across state lines and devastate communities throughout West Virginia.
During our trip to the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers told us that, at this particular point of entry in the El Paso sector, fentanyl seizures were up 648 percent so far this fiscal year.
According to CBP, agents and officers have seized more than 4,900 pounds of fentanyl during the first five months of fiscal 2021, already surpassing the total for all of fiscal 2020. And the weight of the amount of drugs seized on the southern border has almost doubled between January and February alone.
And this is just what the men and women working at border checkpoints are catching. The true flow of these deadly drugs is harder to quantify, except unfortunately, in drug overdoses and fatalities.
We aren’t the only ones who understand that the current humanitarian crisis is fueling America’s addiction crisis. Drug traffickers know it, too.
As hundreds of border patrol agents are pulled off their regular line duty and forced to deal with the surge of migrants being processed and cared for, drug traffickers have a green light to send methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl into our country with ease.
It only takes a speck of fentanyl about the size of a small salt packet to kill someone, and it only takes one time experimenting with meth or heroin to begin the slippery slope into addiction and, eventually, destruction.
These are the drugs that are killing our brothers and sisters, our daughters and sons, our friends and neighbors.
What I saw at our southwest border was devastating and heart-wrenching, but also preventable.
The situation requires not only stronger messaging from the Biden administration, but urgent action, a return to policies that deter mass illegal immigration, and a recommitment to securing our nation’s border.
I urge them to act now, or the long-term effects of the border crisis will surely be felt by Americans — and West Virginians — for years to come.
Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is West Virginia’s junior senator.