Editorials, Opinion

W.Va. National Guard a pawn in a political game

We care deeply about the devastating impact fentanyl has had on our communities. And the best way to address the very real fentanyl crisis is to address the source: Organized transnational criminal activity that works to smuggle the deadly drug through legal ports of entry, often done by American citizens.

Which is why that flow of fentanyl into our state will not be stemmed by deploying 54 West Virginia National Guard volunteers to Texas to join Border Patrol agents. (Which will cost taxpayers $900,000.)

Back in May, Gov. Jim Justice’s line was the deployment is “to help secure our border, reduce the flood of fentanyl and combat the human trafficking crisis.” But it was fentanyl that kept coming up again and again during Monday’s send-off ceremony. Justice referred to it in the vague language of “bad things” that happen in West Virginia, ostensibly because of border crossers; WVNG Adjutant General Major Bill Crane said, “There’s absolutely something that needs to be done to ensure that those drugs are not coming across the border”; and multiple soldiers who spoke to the media indicated overdoses and the spread of fentanyl in their communities as their primary reason for volunteering for the monthlong assignment.

Unfortunately, they are leaving home because of a myth — a political narrative that doesn’t match reality.

No one can measure exactly how much fentanyl makes it into the country, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection measures how much, how often and where it intercepts drugs coming into America. The laws of probability say we’re more likely to intercept drugs where there are more drugs to intercept — and that’s at legal ports of entry, overseen by the Office of Field Operations.

In FY2023, Border Patrol agents — whom the National Guard is going to help — were responsible for less than a quarter of fentanyl seizure events and less than 11% of the total amount seized along the southern border.  OFO officers at ports of entry were responsible for the remaining 75% of seizures and roughly 90% of total fentanyl intercepted at the U.S.-Mexico border. And in 2021, 86% of convicted fentanyl traffickers were U.S. citizens.

If West Virginia guardsmen want to help stop the flow of fentanyl, they won’t accomplish it by patrolling along the Rio Grande with Border Patrol agents. (And they won’t help stop human trafficking that way, either; not as long as traffickers’ questionable promises seem like a safer bet than America’s convoluted asylum system.)   

Not only have many of the deployed guardsmen fallen for a false narrative, they are now pawns in a political game to perpetuate that narrative. Nothing screams “crisis” like good-intentioned uniformed soldiers patrolling the desert, capturing brown-skinned immigrants — which is exactly the image the political right wants Americans to have in their minds.

Have no doubt that Justice’s decision to deploy the National Guard is in service to that political agenda, not to some high ideal of combating drug and human trafficking. This is ultimately a political stunt. One that will make good fodder for Justice’s Senate campaign, paid for on the taxpayers’ dime.