WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) recently introduced the Justice Against Sponsors of Illicit Fentanyl Act, legislation that would amend foreign sovereign immunity and anti-terrorism laws to allow victims of fentanyl and their survivors to bring civil claims against nations, primarily Mexico and China, that enable the continued flood of fentanyl into the United States. The bill would also eliminate certain immunity protections for foreign nations that assist or permit fentanyl trafficking beyond mere negligence.
“Drug trafficking across the southern border doesn’t just affect border states – it affects communities around our country,” said Thune. “I continue to hear form South Dakota law enforcement officials who tell me that they’re seizing drugs that they can trace directly back to the cartels who smuggle them across the border. Right now, fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death for U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 45, which is why I’m proud to introduce this bill that would create a new pathway to justice for victims of fentanyl trafficking.”
“Every single day, sheriffs across America are witnessing and dealing with the deadly and heartbreaking impact fentanyl is having on their counties and parishes,” said Mike Milstead, Minnehaha County sheriff. “We are united in our efforts to hold transnational criminal organizations and any foreign governments or officials accountable for their actions or inactions in stopping the unprecedented flow of this deadly drug into our country. Victims and their families deserve justice that doesn’t stop at our border. As a 25-year sheriff and chair of the National Sheriff’s Association Drug Enforcement Committee, I applaud Senator Thune for introducing this legislation and pray that Congress can overcome the current partisan divides to lend their support for this most worthy cause.”
Last year Sheriff Milstead estimated that 90 percent of fentanyl and methamphetamine in South Dakota comes through Mexico. In November 2022, the Roberts County sheriff and Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe made the largest fentanyl seizure in South Dakota history. Officers seized 16.46 pounds of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced pills, valued at $2 million in street value. The amount seized was enough to kill 3.69 million people.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Illicit Fentanyl Act mirrors the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to permit civil claims for physical injury to a person or property or death that occurs inside the United States as a result of an act of international terrorism. The bill was enacted after Congress voted to override a veto by President Barack Obama in 2016, the only veto override of his presidency.