Youngkin visits troops at the border

Published 6:38 pm Friday, August 4, 2023

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An open border affects everyone. That was the statement from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, as he returned from visiting troops from Lunenburg, Charlotte and Nottoway counties. Youngkin had traveled to the southern border of Texas, to visit the soldiers from Fort Barfoot who are serving there as part of Operation Lone Star. 

Youngkin signed Executive Directive Four in June, which called for 100 soldiers from the Virginia National Guard at Fort Barfoot and 10 support personnel to head to Texas. Those soldiers left Saturday, July 8. Those soldiers are working to help combat the illegal flow of fentanyl and other illicit drugs, as well as curb human trafficking and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border. 

“I visited our Virginia National Guard soldiers and airmen to express my gratitude to them for bravely answering the call to serve. As we continue to face this crisis, Virginia along with 12 other states have committed to assisting the State of Texas’ efforts in key aspects of their mission,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “An open border is enabling the destruction of lives by the blight of illicit drugs and human trafficking. With an average of five Virginians dying a day from fentanyl overdoses, we have to go to work at the source.” 

The Virginia Guard members are among the thousands that Virginia and 13 other states have sent in response to a request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, under a longstanding 50-state mutual aid agreement.

The Guard members, who arrived in early July, will be there for a month, at a cost to the state of $3.1 million.

The problem with fentanyl

Back in April, Customs and Border Patrol agents at the border seized 3.1 million doses of fentanyl, a drug Virginia residents are very familiar with.

Visits Troops

Governor Glenn Youngkin receives briefing from members of the Virginia and Texas National Guard at Observation Point 1407 in Eagle Pass, Texas, July 26. (Photo by Christian Martinez with Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin)

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, made in a lab. According to state records, fentanyl contributed to 76.4% of all overdoses in 2021, the last year for which we have data. And the drug keeps coming in over the Texas border. Customs officials reported seizing 107 pounds of fentanyl in 2019 and by the end of 2022, that yearly total had jumped to 692 pounds. It’s because of this, Youngkin said, that he sent Virginia National Guard troops to the border. 

The help is needed, based on the data provided by U.S. Customs. Last year, Customs reported 2,579,005 encounters at the border with Mexico. That includes traffic, vehicles that have to be searched and people that have to be searched, to seize drugs and cut down on overall smuggling. By June 1 of this year, Customs had reported 922,947 encounters.

A chance to see what’s happening 

Youngkin said his visit was a chance to get a sense of what the Guard members were seeing on this deployment.

“What they told me is the clarity of what the drug cartels and human traffickers are doing — they hear about the large sums people are paying, see the traffickers directing them to the river where it’s dangerous,” Youngkin said.

Youngkin met with 15 of the 110 Virginia Guard members who deployed earlier this month to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, along with five Texas National Guard members.

He delivered lunch to them, heard briefings on their work, and asked how their families were managing.

Youngkin also watched them at work at Observation Point 1407, at Shelby Park, a riverfront public park that the mayor of Eagle Pass has authorized arrests for trespassing in order that migrants who make it across the river and up the park’s boat ramp can be charged.

Youngkin said it’s hard for the Virginia Guard members to be so far from family and friends for so long.

But he said their mission in Texas is a Virginia one, since illegal border crossing is how the fentanyl that kills five Virginians a day is reaching the state, while the women and children that human traffickers bring across to the U.S. often end up in Virginia and in desperate situations.

“They were all proud to be there, consummate professionals,” Youngkin said of the Virginia Guard members. “It was inspiring talking to them.”