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MCALLEN, TEXAS — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) traveled to the Rio Grande Valley at the U.S. southern border to see firsthand the ongoing national security and humanitarian crisis and hear directly from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents, local law enforcement, local elected officials, and members of the community.
Thune 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.
Last year, Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead estimated that 90 percent of fentanyl and methamphetamine in South Dakota comes through Mexico. In November 2022, the Roberts County Sheriff’s Department 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.
Thune’s remarks below:
“Thanks to Senator Cornyn for hosting us. My colleagues and I have had a great opportunity to see firsthand what our Border Patrol agents are dealing with on a daily basis. This is always an incredible learning experience, and I'm grateful for Senator Cornyn and our colleagues from Texas making it available to us on a regular basis.
“Let me just say as somebody who doesn't represent a border state that I think we all know now that every state is a border state. In Minnehaha County, which is our largest county in South Dakota, the drug overdoses were up 133 percent over where they were five years ago, and the sheriff in that county says 90 percent of the drugs that are coming into South Dakota are coming from the southern border. There was a huge bust up in the northeastern part of South Dakota just recently of fentanyl. Fentanyl, we all know, is incredibly deadly: 71,000 deaths last year as a result of that horrible drug. Again, a product of what's happening down here at the border.
“And I have to say that, at least in my view, the solutions seem really straightforward. And you kind of hear it, you talk to people who have the job every day of trying to keep a lot of the human trafficking and the drug trafficking and the weapons trafficking and the cartels and the smugglers at bay, and [they] just say, ‘enforce the law.’ I mean, it's really fairly simple. Enforce the law, you know, end catch and release, bring back the Remain in Mexico policy when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers, and finish building the wall. I mean, it's really that simple.
“And on that point, we heard something this morning that I thought was pretty astounding. And that is from the person who's in charge of the border for the state of Texas, has been trying to get the administration to allow them to take panels, panels that are sitting here from the uncompleted wall, and to get federal easements to be able to complete the wall. And all they’re meeting in Washington, D.C., is resistance. That's absolutely stunning. The state of Texas can't even protect itself because they're at war with the federal government.
“The other thing that I thought, the other data point this morning, I thought was pretty remarkable was the fact that in this last year, Chinese nationals coming across this sector of the border was up 488 percent. If that doesn't get the Biden administration's attention, I don't know what will. That is a really, really stunning number, and we all know, an incredible national security threat.
“So, I'm grateful to Border Patrol, the folks down here that work so hard, the state of Texas, and others who have frontline responsibility for trying to police the border. But I want them to know that we're going to do everything we can to support them, because the stakes are incredibly high. When you have as many people dying from drug overdoses in this country as we do every year, and you've got literally a $13 billion industry across the border, there's a huge economy down here that needs to be shut down. And you've got an administration in Washington, D.C., that has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye and honestly has just been missing in action when it comes to the important work that needs to be done here to protect people, not only in this area, but all across the country.
“So, I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here, and I'm going to double down my efforts along with those of my colleagues to try and make sure that the folks who have that job down here have what they need to get it done, irrespective of whether or not they feel supported by the current administration.”