WESLACO, Texas (Border Report) — During a congressional field hearing on fentanyl and illegal immigration on Wednesday in South Texas, several lawmakers accused China and Mexico of not doing enough to stem the flow of the illicit synthetic drug.

“Most illicit fentanyl is being smuggled across the border are being produced by cartels in Mexico with precursor ingredients sourced by China. Criminals and drug dealers are selling these deadly substances in communities that are killing a record number of Americans,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Two subcommittees of the Energy and Commerce Committee — Health, and Investigations and Oversight — on Wednesday night held the first field hearing of this new Republican-led Congress in the border town of Weslaco, Texas. It was the third border-related hearing since the session began, and the first held outside the confines of the U.S. Capitol.

When asked by lawmakers what other countries are supply precursors for fentanyl, Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said: “Only China.”

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, questions witnesses on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, during a field hearing in Weslaco, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

During the nearly three-hour hearing, McMorris Rodgers said that in 2021, there were 71,000 overdoses related to fentanyl in the United States and most of the drugs came across the southern border from Mexico with ingredients supplied from China and assembled by drug cartels.

She said in December she met DEA Administrator Anne Milgram “and she told me they’d identified 160,000 plants in China that are producing the chemicals that now make their way to Mexico that are then used to produce fentanyl-related substances making their way into the United States.”

Fentanyl trade driving up violence in Mexico
Fentanyl trade driving up violence in Mexico. This photo shows precursor chemicals seized by the Mexican army in a warehouse in Culiacan, Mexico.
Rainbow fentanyl pills come in bright colors and are meant to look like candy, DEA officials said. (DEA/KLAS)

So far in 2023, she said the Drug Enforcement Administration has seized 4.5 million fake pills laced with fentanyl, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized more than 1,400 pounds of fentanyl.

“The fentanyl crisis is driven by President Biden’s open-border agenda that is turning every town into a border town,” McMorris Rodgers said. “The U.S.-Mexico border is close to 2,000 miles long. How many pounds of fentanyl are coming across the areas that are scarcely monitored? That’s why we need to secure the bore, secure the southern border and stem the flow of these weapons-grade poisons.”

A March 2022 report by the Brookings Institute think-tank cited China as the “principal (if indirect) source of U.S. fentanyl.”

The 65-page report credited China with adopting some stricter monitoring policies to detect fentanyl, which “has created some deterrence effects,” but the report found criminal organizations have done an end-around by simply sending lesser-monitored pharmaceutical ingredients to Mexico where fentanyl is assembled and then shipped north to the United States.

“Instead of finished fentanyl being shipped directly to the United States, most smuggling now takes place via Mexico. Mexican criminal groups source fentanyl precursors — and increasingly pre-precursors — from China, and then traffic finished fentanyl from Mexico to the United States. Scheduling of fentanyl and its precursors in China is not sufficient to stem flows to the United States.”

Scheduling of fentanyl and its precursors in China is not sufficient to stem flows to the United States.”

Brookings Institute March 2022 report

Judd testified that migrants who pay smugglers to get them across the border often are found with backpacks full of illicit drugs, including fentanyl. Commercial vehicles, like in Laredo, Texas, also are packed with illegal drugs, and he said the Mexican cartels do whatever they can, given the geography of the border, to cross drugs north.

National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol to discuss immigration at the southern border on June 22, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“There is no one-size-fits all. The border has many different dynamics. For instance in Tucson there is no river; in McAllen, there is a large river. The cartels use the different landscapes,” Judd said.

A December report by the Congressional Research Service noted: “Direct flows of fentanyl from China are now largely stemmed. U.S. counternarcotics policy with regard to China has shifted to preventing Chinese-sourced fentanyl precursors from entering the U.S.-bound fentanyl supply chain via third countries.”

“Today, Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are largely responsible for the production of U.S.-consumed illicit fentanyl, using PRC-sourced primary materials, including precursor chemicals that are not internationally controlled (and are correspondingly legal to produce in and export out of China),” the CRS report found.

U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Tennessee, who was among the 18 committee members to attend Wednesday’s field hearing, said she is a pharmacist by trade and understands that fentanyl had its origins as a pain killer to help post-surgical patients and to treat cancer patients. But then she questioned Judd whether Chinese transnational criminal organizations were working with Mexican cartels to mass produce fentanyl pills.

Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez testified Feb. 15 before a House field hearing in Weslaco, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

He said they were.

“Are we getting help from friends in the Mexican government to try to put a stop to this?” U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, who presided over Wednesday night’s hearing, asked Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez.

Martinez replied: “No sir, that’s the major problem we’re having. The Mexican government needs to step up their enforcement actions.”