On Friday, Republican presidential hopeful Tim Scott participated in a Blaze Media forum hosted by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the U.S.-Mexico border was front and center. Early in the conversation, Carlson mentioned President Joe Biden's recent move to mobilize 3,000 reserve troops for potential deployment to Europe, and he later connected it back to the border.
"Why not build a human wall with, say, the reservists who were called up to go defend Ukraine—why wouldn't they be defending our border?" he asked Scott, who replied, "Totally agree with you."
Carlson questioned why the Pentagon should be funded "if they are refusing to defend" the country. "Aren't you kind of being invaded at a certain point?" he continued. "If you've got millions of military-age men coming into your country and hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying, why is that not the job of the military to stop?"
"I don't disagree with you," said Scott.
The exchange highlights several mounting trends on the right. For one, it repeats "invasion" rhetoric that wrongly paints migrants as national security risks, akin to enemy soldiers. It's also heavy on the misguided belief that closing the border will keep fentanyl out of the country. These points both play into an increasing interest on the right in taking military action along the border and within Mexico—even as Republican lawmakers question the wisdom of military involvement elsewhere in the world.
"I don't know anyone who's been killed by Russia. I know people personally who have been killed by Mexico," said Carlson. That's because the Mexican government, he argued, "is party to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Americans" by "allow[ing] fentanyl to be made in its country and to come over our border." Scott didn't disagree.
It is true, and tragic, that thousands of Americans are dying of fentanyl overdoses. But fentanyl is largely smuggled into the U.S. through legal ports of entry, rather than in remote illegal border crossings, by American citizens. A vanishingly small percentage of arrested illegal border crossers—0.02 percent—were carrying any amount of fentanyl. A common retort is that fentanyl is going undetected because Border Patrol agents are too busy arresting undocumented immigrants. But according to congressional testimony by the Cato Institute's David J. Bier, even though arrests fell by 42 percent in January, Border Patrol didn't seize more fentanyl that month. Moreover, Bier's research found that "the government exacerbated the problem by banning most legal cross border traffic in 2020 and 2021, accelerating a switch to fentanyl (the easiest-to-conceal drug)."
Carlson and Scott didn't explore the main problem fueling fentanyl deaths: the unpredictable composition of black market opioids, which is driven by drug prohibition. As long as there are Americans willing to buy illicit fentanyl, that supply will continue to enter the country—and kill.
Earlier in his remarks, Scott rejected the idea of American boots on the ground in Ukraine. But he thinks they'd be effective at the southern border: "I would use every resource we have, to include the United States military, to stop the flow of fentanyl."
He didn't expand much on what he'd have the military do. But he's previously said that we should "have more of a military presence on…our southern border" and that "we should do…whatever it takes to secure our southern border." It's a seemingly less bellicose approach than the one pushed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), who wants to authorize the military to "destroy drug labs." But Scott's proposal still risks escalation and contradicts the (reasonable) things he's said about keeping American soldiers out of Ukraine.
Scott would have a similarly heavy hand on immigration, with proposals of varying seriousness including "appoint[ing] Tucker Carlson as my bye-bye ambassador to figure this out" ("this" being broad deportations), finishing the border wall, and doing away with sanctuary cities.
Carlson and Scott touched on a number of genuinely pressing problems. But border security, the immigration system, and fentanyl overdoses won't be solved by more prohibition and more brute government force.