• More than 112,000 people likely died from fentanyl overdoses in 2023, the highest ever recorded.
  • Most of the fentanyl in the U.S. is manufactured and trafficked by the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartels
  • Cartels use their control of the southwest border to manipulate law enforcement, making it easier to traffic cocaine
  • Illegal immigration and fentanyl trafficking are inextricably linked through cartels, which means neither should be allowed or incentivized.

More than 112,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the highest ever recorded.

Experts almost uniformly blame the staggering death toll on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-times more powerful than heroine and 100-times more powerful than morphine.

Policymakers, on the other hand, can’t decide how to stop fentanyl from entering the country.


The majority of fentanyl trafficked into the United States indisputably comes from Mexico, where the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generacion (JNG) cartels manufacture and traffic almost all the fentanyl Americans consume.

But the problem isn’t localized to Mexico. Chinese pharmaceutical and chemical companies willingly sell Sinaloa and JNG the ingredients to make fentanyl.

U.S. lawmakers need to collaborate with Chinese and Mexican law-enforcement to destroy the fentanyl supply chain, but these efforts have been slow-moving and hard to agree upon.

Stopping the Flow

Lawmakers and politicians most vociferously clash over whether border policy effects the quantity of fentanyl entering the U.S.

Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) agents seized 26,700 pounds of fentanyl at the Southwest land border in 2023, up 61% from the 10,500 pounds confiscated in 2021.

As early as 2022, some elected officials connected the spike in fentanyl seizures to concurrent spikes in illegal immigration. They argue lax border security allows more fentanyl to enter the country.

Others reject this argument as a “political stunt” to discredit White House border policies.

“Over 90% of fentanyl seizures take place at our ports of entry or border checkpoints,” Representative Bennie Thomas reminded the House Homeland Security Committee last February, “and those responsible are overwhelmingly American citizens, not immigrants.”

Further, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed in May that increased fentanyl seizures demonstrated the effectiveness of new border scanning technology.

The Whole Picture

It makes sense that most fentanyl seizures occur at the border — that’s where CBP agents spend most of their time. It’s also where they have the tools and opportunity to carefully examine people, vehicles and packages for illicit substances.

It also tracks that Americans frequently get caught smuggling drugs from Mexico into the country — they have an easier time going through legal ports of entry.

But neither of these arguments divorce fentanyl trafficking from illegal immigration or prove that fentanyl isn’t entering the country at alarming rates.

Fentanyl trafficking, border policy and illegal immigration are inextricably linked by drug cartels, a majority report released in September by the House Committee on Homeland Security shows.

Contrary to testimony from top immigration officials, several law enforcements and CPB agents cited by the report confirmed drug cartels control who travels through America’s southwestern border.

Each migrant must appease the cartel before entering the U.S., often paying exorbitant fees or selling themselves into debt bondage to avoid the organizations’ brutal violence.

A New York Times article supports the report’s argument, despite being published more than a year before its release:

“Migrant smuggling on the U.S. southern border has evolved over the past 10 years from a scattered network of freelance ‘coyotes’ into a multi-billion-dollar international business controlled by organized crime, including some of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels,” it reads.

The cartels use their control of the border to manipulate law enforcement and traffic drugs like fentanyl.

The report describes a tactic referred to as “flooding the zone,” when cartels force large amounts of illegal migrants through specific spots in the border, forcing CBP to move their agents to confront the surge. While the illegal migrants forced across the border get processed, the cartel sends drug runners through resulting holes in border security.

Sheriff Leon Wilmot from Yuma County, Arizona, which borders Mexico, blames fentanyl’s proliferation on this ruse:

“The [cartels] tie up Border Patrol resources by sending across large groups of ‘give ups’… so they can funnel in those that are smuggling narcotics. They actually drop off certain groups out 30 miles away from civilization and have them call 911. That ties up our resources, and that’s why we’re seeing such a large amount of fentanyl throughout the whole of the U.S. We’ve never seen it this bad.”

CPB is inundated with a historic number of illegal migrants, many flying into Mexico from places like China for a chance to enter the United States quickly.

Cartels, in the meantime, are making money hand-over-fist, charging some migrants an estimated $50,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. while simultaneously using them to shield and abet drug trafficking.

“Human life is nothing to the cartels,” the report quotes Wilmot. “It’s a commodity.”

The Takeaway

Lawmakers shouldn’t be arguing over how to keep fentanyl out of the country — immigration data and testimony from experienced sources make the answer clear:

Don’t allow or incentivize illegal immigration and trafficking.

It’s not wrong to acknowledge that illegal immigration facilitates the fentanyl crisis, enriches cartels, and endangers the safety of citizens and noncitizens.

In fact, biblical compassion demands it — we cannot truly provide for the poor and needy without also trying to materially improve their circumstances.

Nor can we protect and care for our neighbors without acknowledging the danger lax borders pose to their safety.

Additional Articles and Resources

Talking to Your Kids About Illegal Immigration

Familial DNA Testing on the Southern Border Shouldn’t Have Ended