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SIMMONS: Tackling Fentanyl Crisis Starts With Giving Law Enforcement the Best Technology Available

n his State of the Union address, President Biden pledged to tackle one of the biggest problems facing Americans: the fentanyl crisis. With record-high drug overdose deaths, and kids under 14 dying at the highest rate among all age groups, it is clear that new approaches are required. Unfortunately, the administration is doubling down on outdated technology to solve a problem that we know requires intelligent, modern solutions to stay ahead of those who want to harm our communities.

If we are going to get serious about saving lives, we need an all-of-the-above approach that starts with providing our law enforcement officers with the cutting-edge capabilities at our disposal to detect and seize deadly drugs before they enter our communities.

The mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is to “Protect the American people, safeguard our borders, and enhance the nation’s economic prosperity.” As someone who proudly worked at this law enforcement agency for 25 years, I know that CBP officers around the country take their duty seriously. Yet, what we ask of CBP officers is, frankly, staggering.

With more than 11 million maritime containers arriving at our seaports annually, another 11 million arriving at land ports by truck, and 2.7 million by rail, these law enforcement officers face the herculean task of adequately identifying and stopping all illegal drugs and weapons during the security screening process. Unfortunately, CBP scans less than 10 percent of all cargo entering the United States, even though the mandate is 100 percent, as required by the 9/11 Commission report and subsequent federal legislation related to the scanning of maritime cargo.

To make matters worse, the scanning is done only with the limited capability X-ray machines. Over the last 50 years, CBP has used X-ray machines to search for drugs and other illicit materials at our ports and borders. Unfortunately, X-ray machines have limited penetration capabilities and cannot detect anomalies inside dense cargo. This well-known inadequacy — the inability to see through dense cargo — allows criminals to circumvent existing scanning systems by hiding fentanyl and other drugs within dense materials that X-ray cannot penetrate.

Much more must be done, and the best technology available must be used. For example, in 2019, CBP conducted a pilot program at the U.S.-Mexico border with a newly developed advanced muon tomography system, which can effectively detect anomalies within dense cargo. During the pilot program, this system was responsible for a significant drug seizure after the smuggling methodology used during the pilot easily defeated the on-site X-ray machines.

The need to deploy advanced scanning technology is so urgent that America’s busiest port, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, requested to Congress that a comprehensive approach be deployed there and integrated into CBP’s current suite of technology. Furthermore, several members of Congress, in both the House and Senate, have urged CBP to procure and deploy additional passive scanning technology. Notably, funding is already available through the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Funding Bill, and CBP would need to redirect a small portion of those funds toward more comprehensive systems.

Illicit drugs are ravaging our cities and robbing too many Americans of their lives. President Biden is right to prioritize the battle against fentanyl, but let’s be clear: our ports of entry are our last line of defense before drugs enter our communities, and we must give our law enforcement officers the best technology available to spot and stop dangerous drugs. 

This should also be a priority for all lawmakers — regardless of party affiliation or home state. Until it is, we will continue to lose this critical fight — one that we desperately need to win for the future of our country.

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STEVENS: We Need to Address Our Border Crisis

We are a nation of immigrants, and, in many ways, this is one of our greatest strengths. But today, we are struggling to understand how we should address the flood of immigrants coming into the country. This is not the first time we have wrestled with this issue; if we are honest with ourselves, we have always had trouble dealing with immigration.

It is absolutely essential that we figure things out this time. We like to think of ourselves as a nation of promise, a nation that stands for freedom and a good life. And many in the world see us this way. But today, our immigration policy is in shambles. And Democrats and Republicans have failed to offer us a path to success.

In the last year, more than 2 million people were arrested while trying to enter the U.S. illegally. In addition, more than 1 million people have been released by authorities, pending a hearing on their requests for asylum. And only 10 American cities have a population that large. When will these hearings take place? This is a serious issue. The system is overwhelmed, and in the meantime, people keep streaming in. Every country has a responsibility to control its borders, and it is clear that we are not doing that.

Except for a few fringe activists, Democrats do not favor open borders, but few of them have not made the border crisis a priority. They amuse themselves by condemning the Trump administration’s policies, but that is not a solution.

Republicans, on the other hand, falsely claim that Democrats actually want to bring undocumented immigrants into the country to increase the number of non-White, non-Christian, Democratic voters. This may appeal to the Republican base, but it isn’t a solution either. Democrats seem to be hoping the problem will just disappear, and Republicans like using the problem to stoke fear. Democrats champion mercy, and Republicans champion toughness. We are in a dark place.

The answer is not to ignore the problem, and the answer is not to condemn and vilify immigrants. Although this is a multi-faceted and complex issue, a new vision has to address three major issues:

—Secure the border. Democrats hated Trump’s push for a wall, and I don’t think a wall is a solution, but the border must be secured before anything else is done. If we grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants before the border is secured, it will only encourage others to enter illegally.

—Redefine the meaning of asylum. Most of those trying desperately to enter the United States are not looking for asylum in the traditional sense; they are not personally under the threat of persecution by their government. They want a better life, and America should be excited about welcoming people who want to join us, work hard and make a better life for themselves. But if they have to try to prove something untrue, that they are seeking political asylum, then they will be forced to lie or hide from officials.

We need a broader definition of asylum, one that recognizes those fleeing terrible poverty, vicious gangs and rampant unemployment — places where there is no hope of a decent life. If we make this change, it will incentivize people to enter the country legally and welcome the legal process that lies ahead of them. They will not feel the need to act outside of the law. They will not live for years in the shadows, afraid of being exposed and vulnerable to being exploited by unscrupulous employers.

—Work consistently over several years, perhaps decades, to support economic and political improvements in the countries from which people are most likely to flee in the first place, such as Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. It should be a priority for us to partner with the governments in these countries to help them become better places to live. If people in these countries have no reason to flee, the number of those coming to our border will decrease significantly.

We really need comprehensive immigration reform, but this will be impossible until we have a political leader who can articulate a clear, compelling vision of what it should be. The American people need to know that we control our borders and welcome the stranger seeking a better life. We need a vision of the future that combines toughness and mercy.

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