Rise in fentanyl deaths justifies use of military force against Mexican drug cartels, says California Sheriff
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes is counting on recently introduced federal legislation to help prevent narcotics from flowing into OC.
In a March 6 letter he sent to the authors of legislation that would authorize the use of military force against Mexican drug cartels, Barnes said the cartels are “flooding American communities with the deadly drug fentanyl” and taking lives on “both sides of our southern border.”
“It is time for the federal government to take meaningful action against these hostile drug trafficking organizations,” Barnes said in the letter to Republican Reps. Mike Waltz of Florida and Dan Crenshaw of Texas.
Introduced in January, the legislation would authorize the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or a fentanyl-related substance into the United States or carrying out other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere.”
The use of “military force” refers to the use of resources, like cyber, drones and intelligence, not sending troops into another country, according to the sponsors. And military force would be used only against organizations and people outside of the U.S.
“It’s the ability to use resources that will better protect us and disrupt the drug trafficking enterprise of the cartels, not necessarily using tanks, bombs and missiles,” Barnes said.
Orange County has experienced a surge of fentanyl-related deaths in the past several years. In 2016, the total number of fentanyl-related deaths was just over 30, but that number spiked to more than 600 by 2021, according to the California Department of Public Heath. Statewide, deaths increased more than 2,000% in the last five years, from 239 in 2016 to nearly 6,000 in 2021.
Barnes pointed to these deaths as “one of the biggest illustrations of the drug cartels’ impact on America’s safety.”
Barnes said the OC Sheriff’s Department already has a relationship with various federal entities — including the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and the National Guard, to name a few — to exchange information.
The OC Sheriff’s Department has employed several different strategies for many years to fight the rapid influx of fentanyl across the border, including narcotics street teams to get the drugs off the street level, a parcel interception team that works with John Wayne Airport, a highway interdiction team that works the I-5 freeway at the chokepoint coming into South Orange County and a narcotics majors team that focuses primarily on the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels south of the border, according to Barnes.
But the porous border, Barnes said, along with the strategic way cartels operate, have exacerbated the gaps that exist in the efforts to prevent narcotics from flowing into the U.S. The legislation, Barnes said, will “help restore border security and reverse the trend in fentanyl-related deaths.”
The legislation has been referred to the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Rep. Young Kim, R-Anaheim Hills, who sits on the committee, recently blamed the U.S.-Mexico border as the “top source of fentanyl.” She was not immediately available to comment on this legislation.
Last year, Crenshaw introduced the Declaring War on the Cartels Act, which aimed for increased criminal and financial penalties for cartels. It did not receive a vote.
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