Herrera Beutler commentary: Stop demonizing border patrol, police while turning blind eye to rising crime

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Law enforcement personnel across Southwest Washington inform me that a combination of federal and state policies have triggered crime to increase dramatically and pose a threat to our families and communities.

In recent years, dangerous calls from political extremists to “defund the police,” “abolish ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” eliminate our borders and decriminalize dangerous narcotics have led to terrible policies that hurt us right here at home. The law enforcement officers, families and business owners I talk to are fed up. 

Enough is enough. 

There is nothing compassionate or moral about turning our backs on root causes of crime, mental health crises, homelessness and preventable deaths.

Take our ongoing crisis at our southern border. Local and federal law enforcement report a record number of illicit drugs pouring into our country and it’s impacting us nationwide. I just returned from visiting the border town of McAllen, Texas, where I met border patrol agents with harrowing examples of human trafficking and drug smuggling.

I’m sometimes asked, “How can you possibly say that the southern border is a top issue for the Pacific Northwest, thousands of miles away?” 

It is and here’s why:

The Customs and Border Patrol reports it has seized over 9,000 pounds of fentanyl this year — which is twice as much as last year. Fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S. One pound is enough to kill 226,000 people. 

This river of poison coming to the Northwest through our porous borders isn’t happening by chance. The DEA has reported the Pacific Northwest has been directly targeted by a Mexican cartel for a flood of fentanyl that originated with Chinese drug traffickers up the Interstate 5 corridor. In Southwest Washington, the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team reported that so far this year it has seized $1.3 million in illegal drugs, including pills laced with fentanyl.  

It may sound like seizing more drugs is good, but instead it means much more is coming across and into our neighborhoods. 

The Biden administration rolling back the “Remain in Mexico” policy and halting construction of a border wall in areas where it’s needed has worsened this problem. The push by extremists to eliminate border law enforcement adds fuel to the fire. For instance, the BREATHE Act bill proposal supported by far-left members of Congress would abolish both ICE and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, slash funds from policing and close all federal prisons.

On the Appropriations Committee, I’ve pressed for more funding for border patrol agents, and for investing in physical and geo-fencing technology. I always support funding for physical border security — twice as much as even the Trump administration ever requested. There is nothing radical about controlling our borders; every major developed country in the world does so.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, spent months refusing to even acknowledge the crisis. Unless the president changes course, our communities will continue to pay the price.  

Policies from Olympia are making this bad situation worse. Police tell me numerous ways new state laws contribute to more crime. For instance, if an officer is called to an armed robbery and sees a subject who matches the description fleeing the scene, thanks to H.B. 1310, he or she can no longer detain the suspect. Unless there is a threat of another crime or imminent harm, the officer is encouraged to leave or face state decertification.

And that relates directly to what’s happening at the border. The sad truth is that those struggling with substance use disorder often resort to robbery and theft to continue acquiring illegal drugs.  It’s little wonder law enforcement report rising crime and murder rates. 

Another recent law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, H.B. 1054, restricts police from car chases, conducting routine traffic stops and impedes their access to non-lethal weapons. Officers tell me criminals have become emboldened as they’ve learned to take advantage of these laws, and that they’ve led directly to more theft, drug crime and overdoses. One officer told me he recently responded to two separate overdose deaths in the same apartment building on the same day. 

Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown was murdered in the line of duty on July 23; his suspected killer was known to law enforcement. There was reasonable suspicion the group of individuals whom the suspect was with were trafficking in stolen firearms. Unfortunately, there was not probable cause for arrest, which is the new threshold for use of force for vehicular pursuit in Washington state, thanks to H.B. 1054, the so-called “reform” that Gov. Inslee signed into law. Had the vehicle been pulled over, the suspect would have been apprehended with the stolen firearms, and Sgt. Brown may still be with us today. Jeremy’s widow, Jill, met with me after his funeral and told me she was making it her mission to remove or drastically revise these terrible state laws.

And with already limited resources, and staffing shortages caused by officers leaving the profession in droves due to being under-supported, underfunded and essentially demonized for doing their jobs, police chiefs warn that response times and policing resources will get worse and worse.

Instead of defunding the police, it’s time to re-fund them. Better training and accountability tools like body cameras are good — but we need to stop treating police like they’re a bigger enemy than criminals, especially those who profit from addiction. Policing is and should be a locally governed service. My role in Congress is to provide the resources allowing more police to be hired by our communities.

When terrible policies from Olympia result in the deaths of police officers and increased crime in our communities, we can’t stay quiet. 

It’s time to stop demonizing border enforcement while turning a blind eye to the scourge of deadly drugs pouring into our communities. Especially now this isn’t about politics. It’s life and death. Federal and state policies are resulting in direct harm to lives and safety. We need to change course. Now.

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Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler is a Republican who represents the 3rd Congressional District. 

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