FIRST ON FOX: Legislation introduced Friday by Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., would expand the Department of Homeland Security’s powers to conduct counter-narcotic operations against cartels pushing fentanyl across the U.S. southern border as the country remains racked by an opioid crisis.
The Homeland Security Fentanyl Enforcement Act would amend the Controlled Substance Act to provide DHS’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents with an independent authority to enforce U.S. drug laws.
While HSI, which is part of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has primary responsibility for investigating transnational crimes, its agents are required to rely on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) when it comes to drug crimes.
The U.S. is dealing with an increase in deaths attributable to illicit fentanyl, which is primarily made in Mexico with Chinese precursors and then smuggled in across the southern land border via drug cartels. The synthetic opioid is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and is frequently added to other drugs, meaning that users may often be unaware that they are ingesting it.
Of the more than 108,000 overdose deaths last year, more than 80,000 were linked with fentanyl, officials say. The Drug Enforcement Administration has previously warned that the drug is killing Americans at an “unprecedented rate.
“The criminal cartels are sending fentanyl and other deadly drugs across our border at unprecedented rates. HSI is on the frontline in the fight against the cartels, but they lack the independent statutory authority to enforce drug crimes and target narco-trafficking. It’s absurd,” Higgins said in a statement.
“We should not allow bureaucracy to constrain our efforts to combat the criminal cartels, which is why I’m introducing our bill to grant HSI agents full Title 21 authority. Our legislation would add thousands of highly skilled federal law enforcement officers to fight drug trafficking … at no cost to the American taxpayers. This is a common-sense bill that helps secure America and keeps deadly drugs out of our communities.”
Co-sponsors on the bill include Reps. Brian Babin, R-Texas, Mike Carey, R-Ohio, Mayra Flores, R-Texas, Mary Miller, R-Ill., Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, and Chris Smith, R-N.J.
Higgins’ office said the bill was developed in consultation with frontline law enforcement at DHS, and noted that it would not cost the taxpayer anything as it would simply expand existing authorities.
The bill is the latest by lawmakers and officials to crack down on the fentanyl crisis. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of 18 state attorneys general called on President Biden to take “immediate and decisive action” to declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, the White House has been highlighting its own efforts to reduce fentanyl deaths in the U.S. and has said that the 200% increase in seizures at the southern border in July is a sign that its anti-smuggling efforts are working.