By LESLIE EIKLEBERRY
For Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan, his trip last week with U.S. Senator Roger Marshall to the Mexican border near McAllen, Texas, was an eye opener.
Soldan was one of five Kansas sheriffs selected to accompany Marshall to the McAllen, Texas, area of the border for briefings, tours, and meetings with border patrol, Homeland Security, and State of Texas officials. The trip came amid the growing fentanyl crisis that is wreaking havoc in Kansas and across the nation.
“After visiting the southern border with Sheriffs Hayden, Hill, Soldan, Richards, and Morse, it’s clear that what is going on is a human tragedy in every sense of the word. At nighttime, it even looks like a war zone and there is a humanitarian crisis here that is lived out every day,” Marshall said in a statement issued after the trip. “Border patrol officers are simply overwhelmed and this is an unsustainable situation."
Other Kansas sheriffs making the trip were Calvin Hayden of Johnson County, Brian Hill of Shawnee County, Jeff Richards of Franklin County, and Tim Morse of Jackson County.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. While pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment for cancer patients, it also has become a dangerous illegally used drug. Fentanyl that is sold illegally is primarily manufactured in Mexico, the DEA noted.
Fentanyl produces effects similar to other opioid analgesics, such as relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, pupillary constriction, and respiratory depression, according to the DEA.
Fentanyl also is playing a major role in fatal drug overdoses in Kansas.
According to a January report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, "Fentanyl continues to drive the uptick in fatal drug overdoses in Kansas. This is largely attributed to increased availability, accessibility and use of illegally manufactured fentanyl statewide. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is often combined with other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, or used as a standalone drug. Due to its potency, fentanyl-involved overdoses have a fast onset and may be difficult to reverse."
Marshall recently announced support for the HALT Fentanyl Act. The legislation would permanently give law enforcement the tools to help combat the fentanyl crisis, according to information from the senator's office. The legislation would permanently place fentanyl-related substances as a class into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. A Schedule I controlled substance is a drug, substance, or chemical that has a high potential for abuse; has no currently accepted medical value; and is subject to regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal penalties under the Controlled Substances Act. Fentanyl-related substances’ current Schedule I classification is temporary and set to expire later this year, Marshall's office noted.
At the border
Soldan said that just in the McAllen, Texas, area, U.S. Border Patrol personnel encounter up to 1,000 immigrants a night trying to cross into the United States.
"Most of them are not Mexican citizens. They're mostly from other countries and come through Mexico to get to the U.S.," Soldan said. "The cartels are bring them up and then they'll send a wave of them across and then they'll follow that with people smuggling drugs or whatever because the border patrol is overwhelmed by the number of just immigrants, people trying to better their lives."
Soldan said he was struck by the number of children at the border. One night his group encountered a couple of girls under the age of 10 who had been sent by themselves to the U.S. border.
"They (their families) paid to get them brought here and all they had when they get to the United States is a phone number of someone to call to help them," Soldan said.
Soldan's group went out Thursday night with the Texas Highway Patrol. The next morning, the group received a briefing about Operation Lone Star, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the rise in illegal immigration.
The group then when out with the Texas Highway Patrol boat team on the Rio Grande River before visiting one of the check points, Soldan said.
The group then met with one of the ranchers who's land is near a check point.
"The check point's 70 miles north of the border. It's on the highway going out. It's kind of a last defense against people coming north. That was an interesting stop, because on his ground, he's (rancher) getting over 100 dead people a year. People bring them up close (to the check point) and then tell them to walk across the ranch to get to the north side and then they get picked up for a ride to go north so they don't go through the check point," Soldan said.
"Its like walking on a superfine sandy beach in 115-degree weather," he continued. "They call it the 'Death Valley' for immigrants."
Friday night, Soldan's group went out with the Brooks County Sheriff Office personnel whose county includes the check point and the ranch. Within about 45 minutes, they had detected via camera some people jumping the fence between the ranch and a rest area.
"So they walk for two days through his ranch, jump the fence, come into the rest area, and then they all pile into a car that came down from Houston to pick 'em up," Soldan said.
He said two women from Houston were going to get paid $1,500 to pick up the illegal immigrants.
"They picked them up. They all piled into the car and the truck and took off north and we stopped them," Soldan said. "Five of them fled over the fence into the brush. We had two immigrants and the two suspects that picked them up."
Soldan said it is a felony in Texas to smuggle people.
The four remaining people were arrested and Border Patrol officers searched in a field and located one of the female immigrants that fled from the car.
"She was so dehydrated that they ended up carrying her back in the dark," he said.
All of the officers Soldan's group was with treated the immigrants in a humanitarian way.
"Contrary to what you would see on TV or what people want you to believe, they treated them very well," Soldan said.
"If you think about it, if it's that busy in that 35-mile stretch of the border, there's a whole lot of border down there. The governor has activated 10,000 Texas National Guard troops that are working on helping them. And they've got a thousand of their highway patrol, fish and game, Texas Rangers, he's got 1,000 of those guys down there helping just with border security and it's still coming," he said.