Nunn, Ernst say U.S.-Mexico border crossings are fueling drug crisis

By: - September 9, 2022 5:02 pm

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Republican Zach Nunn, a state senator who is running for in 3rd Congressional District, talked about immigration at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office in Adel on Sept. 9, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and congressional candidate Zach Nunn said Friday the best way to address Iowa’s rising problems with fentanyl and meth is better security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nunn, a Republican state senator who is running against U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in the 3rd Congressional District, visited the border at the end of August. Nunn said he met with border patrol agents and local law enforcement during the trip to talk about the “human crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border. Ernst also visited the border in the Texas Rio Grande Valley in July alongside a delegation of fellow Republican senators.

While Iowa is far from any national borders, the two politicians said they believed stronger border security is necessary to combat human and drug trafficking across the state.

“Literally every county is becoming a border county in this fight,” Nunn said at the event, held at the Dallas County sheriff’s 0ffice in Adel.

Nunn said drugs are trafficked from the border along Interstate Highway 35 to Iowa towns and cities, many of which have seen a surge of fentanyl overdose deaths in the past year. Fentanyl overdose deaths rose by 120% in Iowa for people younger than 25 since 2019. He commended local law enforcement, like those at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, for their work to stop the flow of illegal drugs into Iowa communities, but said the federal government must help by strengthening border security.

Ernst called for taking steps like building a physical wall, building better “cyber-awareness” systems to monitor illegal border crossings and discouraging Latin American countries from allowing migrants to travel through their countries on the way to the United States. She criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for giving a “welcome” to migrants.

“What we need is the president to be very firm about it, say ‘Do not come to the United States, we don’t have the work for you,'” Ernst said. “On the flip side, we do need to work to modernize our immigration.”

Delays and other problems with legal immigration encourage people to seek help from cartels, she said, which are behind the drug and human trafficking crises along the border. Ernst said she learned cartels charge people around $8,000 to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and those who can’t pay up front are often forced into drug running or sex trafficking to pay off their debt.

Nunn said he heard from people who had spent a decade trying to immigrate to the U.S. legally, who ended up crossing the border illegally because they were “fed up.”

“Let’s find an on-ramp so that people who want to come here the right way aren’t forced into an impossible system,” Nunn said.

Nunn praised measures the Iowa Legislature has taken to stop trafficking, like setting up a human trafficking operation center and limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine, an allergy drug used to make meth, that customers can buy.

“But it doesn’t matter how good we are at enforcing that in our state if 95% is going to come across the border of Mexico,” he said. “We’ve got to find a good way to deter the overwhelming amount of illegal immigration.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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