Portman Op-Ed in Roll Call: Biden’s Border Policies are Worsening the Opioid Crisis

In an op-ed for Roll Call, Senator Portman, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Representative John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, called on the Biden administration to address the ongoing surge in illicit narcotics, like fentanyl, coming across the southern border and into the United States resulting in an increase of overdose deaths. 

Earlier this week, Portman issued a statement after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released operational statistics for May 2021 regarding the crisis at our southern border, highlighting that the surging numbers of illicit narcotics is a direct result of the Biden administration’s decision to dismantle the previous administration’s policies with no consideration of the ramifications.

In March, Portman visited the southern border in El Paso, Texas, where he witnessed firsthand the ongoing crisis and spoke to Border Patrol agents about how smugglers were using vulnerable individuals, particularly families and unaccompanied children who require significant processing time, as a way to distract agents to allow them to then move large quantities of illicit narcotics, like fentanyl, into the United States

Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found here.  

Biden’s Border Policies are Worsening the Opioid Crisis

By Senator Rob Portman and Representative John Katko

Roll Call

June 11, 2021 

The latest data on the opioid crisis shows how the COVID-19 pandemic reversed the progress America was making in decreasing drug overdose deaths. 

More than 90,000 Americans died of overdoses between September 2019 and September 2020. Last year, drug overdose deaths rose by more than 27 percent in New York and more than 24 percent in Ohio. Based on current trends, we expect 2021 to be as bad, if not worse. 


Recent data by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a massive increase in seizures of fentanyl at the border. CBP has seized more than 600 pounds of deadly fentanyl every month for the last 12 months — a record. In the last six months alone, it has seized 5,400 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill 1.2 billion people or the entire population of the United States more than three times over. This six-month total is more than all of last year, and CBP believes the vast majority of drugs are getting in without being stopped. 

The reason for this is clear — the Biden administration’s radical policy changes have encouraged the drug cartels to smuggle more unlawful migrants and lethal, illicit substances across our southern border. The Biden administration systematically dismantled the existing border security framework put in place by the Trump administration, including revoking the COVID-19 emergency declaration for the border, stopping construction of the border fence, suspending the Remain in Mexico policy, canceling Asylum Cooperative Agreements and severely reducing immigration enforcement within the United States. Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had the fewest deportations in its nearly two decades of existence. 


The most immediate way to curb this fentanyl flow is to stop the surge at the border and give our overworked law enforcement officers the resources to crack down on drug smugglers. To that end, here are four steps the Biden administration should take to address this crisis. 

First, it must provide the resources our Border Patrol needs to hire more agents, acquire more technology and aid its mission by finalizing the construction of the already funded border wall. 

Second, the Biden administration must allow migrants to apply for asylum closer to home in the first safe country they enter. 

Third, it must implement asylum adjudication at the border and stop releasing tens of thousands of unlawful migrants into the United States. 

Fourth, it must implement an agile response plan to respond to unlawful immigration surges. Our bipartisan legislation, the Border Response & Resilience Act, would require this and would allow the Department of Homeland Security to access contingency funding to respond to border surges. 

This would reduce the flow of unlawful migrants and give our law enforcement agents at the border greater capability to apprehend drug traffickers. 

Criminal manufacturers and drug cartels in China and Mexico are not slowing down in their efforts to bring fentanyl and other deadly synthetic opioids into the United States. We cannot slow down in our efforts to stop them either. 

We are calling on the Biden administration to stop this surge of deadly synthetic opioids and start saving American lives.