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Abbott Sends Warning About Fentanyl From Mexico, But Some Advocates Question His Reasoning

Governor Greg Abbott gestures with his hands as he speaks into a microphone at a press conference. He is flanked by law enforcement officers, in uniform, many wearing cowboy hats.
Miranda Suarez
/
KERA News
Gov. Greg Abbott, center, with Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, left, and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, warn about the dangers of fentanyl, a powerful, deadly synthetic opioid.

The governor blamed President Biden’s “open border” policy for the drug's rise in Texas, but immigration advocates say the border is far from open.

At a press conference, Abbott told reporters that in the first four months of 2021, the Texas Department of Public Safety seized 95 pounds of fentanyl. That’s more than in all of 2020, when it seized 11 pounds.

He blamed Mexican drug cartels for the problem. According to a 2019 report from the Wilson Center, an international research organization, although most fentanyl is produced in China, Mexican producers’ share in the market has grown.

Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw said fentanyl used to pass through Texas to other parts of the country.

“Now we’re a retail market for it, and that concerns us greatly,” he said.

In Fort Worth and the surrounding area, law enforcement officials say they’ve seen an increase in fentanyl-related overdoses.

Border Patrol can’t stop smugglers, Abbott said, because of the large number of migrants.

"Border Patrol officers get fully occupied simply processing the people coming across the border," he said.

Abbott blamed what he called President Biden’s open border policy.

But Bill Holston, executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, said the border is not really open at all. Border Patrol can still turn away adult asylum seekers under the Title 42 expulsion policy.

Holston said it's unfair to link people fleeing catastrophes in their home countries to a drug smuggling problem.

“It’s just the height of cynicism to blame innocent children who are coming here because they’re fleeing either climate change problems, such as major hurricanes and disasters, or unrelenting gang violence, or women that are escaping epic amounts of femicide and domestic violence in these countries,” he said.

Holston said conflating the migration issue and the drug smuggling issue “presents a false choice.”

“We should do both. We should have enough law enforcement to interdict illegal drugs coming into the country, and also provide safe refuge,” he said.

Jonathan Ryan, CEO and president of the immigrant rights organization RAICES Texas, told KERA in a statement that Abbott's press conference was a political move to appeal to former president Trump's supporters.

"The comments made by Governor Greg Abbott today were egregious," Ryan said. "The press conference in Fort Worth was not about fentanyl, but instead, was another opportunity to demonize migrant children and the immigrant population in Texas."

At the press conference, Abbott also announced he would sign a measure to make the manufacture and distribution of fentanyl at least a third degree felony.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Updated: May 28, 2021 at 11:13 AM CDT
This story was updated to include a statement from Jonathan Ryan, CEO and president of the immigrant rights organization RAICES Texas.