Editorials, Opinion

Don’t use W.Va.’s drug crisis as cover for anti-immigrant lawsuit, Morrisey

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s choice of lawsuits tends to leave us scratching our heads.

Like supporting lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election results in swing states only, or defending rules that discriminate against transgender teens, or trying to strip thousands of West Virginians of health insurance by getting rid of the Affordable Care Act.

This time, Morrisey is suing the Biden administration for ending the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. The policy forced immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border to be deported back to Mexico while waiting for approval.

Morrisey filed his suit Aug. 19; this past Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to overrule a Texas U.S. District Court judge’s ruling that the Remain in Mexico policy must be reinstated. The Supreme Court’s majority issued a similar reasoning as it did when Trump tried to end DACA: The Biden administration “failed to show … rescinding the Migrant Protection Protocols was not arbitrary and capricious.”

While Remain in Mexico has technically been revived, the Biden administration could try to dismantle it again and likely will.

Hardline anti-immigration is a common Republican stance, and it’s amazing what excuses they will come up with. This time, Morrisey has tried to take a page out of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s playbook: In July, Capito made a misleading claim that Biden’s “open border” — a nice use of buzzwords, for sure, but not an accurate description — would lead to an influx of drugs in West Virginia.

Morrisey has put his own spin on it: He claims that undoing the Remain in Mexico policy “will undoubtedly lead to an increase in illegal drug trafficking and thus senseless deaths from fentanyl.”

A Drug Enforcement Agency report from 2017 showed that controlled prescription drugs (such as opioids), fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamines were the greatest threats to West Virginians. Of the prescription drugs not provided by a medical or pharmaceutical professional, most pills came to the Mountain State via Detroit-based drug traffickers. The same is true for fentanyl and heroin, though Columbus-based traffickers also have a hand in the distribution of those.

The fight against drug trafficking is always a noble one, but priorities must be made. Fentanyl from Mexico make up a fraction of the drugs that have flooded into West Virginia, and it doesn’t make sense to waste West Virginia taxpayer dollars on suing the Biden administration over an immigration policy that doesn’t directly impact West Virginia.

If Morrisey wants to do something productive for the fight against addiction in West Virginia, he can stop turning his nose up at good payouts for national opioid settlements and stop settling his own opioid lawsuits for pennies on the dollar. He could also work with other state attorney’s general to crack down on interstate drug trafficking, since most of the drugs in West Virginia are coming in from Detroit and Columbus, Ohio.

And if Morrisey wants to end immigration, then he needs to just say he doesn’t want Mexicans and Central Americans coming into the U.S. He shouldn’t use West Virginia’s ongoing drug crisis as guise for deporting people fleeing violence, poverty and government corruption — people seeking better lives in a place that’s supposedly the antithesis of everything that drove them from home.