The end of October is nearing, which means Halloween is just around the corner for many American kids. The holiday, known for trick or treating and consuming copious amounts of candy, is a bit spookier than normal this year: Parents now have to worry about the possibility of so-called rainbow fentanyl ending up in their kids’ candy bags.
“Because this has been a relatively new phenomenon regarding the rainbow fentanyl and as Halloween is so close, parents need to be particularly concerned about what their children are ingesting for Halloween, because it has been found in Nerds candy packaging as well as Skittles,” says Lora Ries, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
Fentanyl, a highly lethal synthetic opioid, has plagued communities throughout the United States. Just recently, roughly 300,000 “rainbow fentanyl” pills and more than 20 pounds of powdered fentanyl were found in the Bronx, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported.
“[Parents] need to talk to their kids, as best they can age appropriately, to look out for rainbow-colored candy and two, parents themselves should be checking packaging,” Ries advises.
Ries joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about rainbow fentanyl, the ongoing crisis at the southern border, and what much of the media is missing.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Samantha Aschieris: Joining the podcast today is Lora Ries. She’s the director of the Border Security and Immigration Center here at The Heritage Foundation. Lora, thank you so much for joining.
Lora Ries: Thanks for having me on.
Aschieris: I want to first talk about rainbow fentanyl. Halloween is just about two weeks away and I’ve seen different news stories warning parents about this rainbow fentanyl. First and foremost, what is it? And what makes it different from “regular fentanyl”?
Ries: So, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that we’re seeing more and more in this country. And it is extremely lethal. About three grains of salt, the equivalent of that, can kill a person. And it has become the No. 1 killer of young people ages 18 to 45 in our country. Last year, over 107,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses, most of which was from synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
And now in addition to—fentanyl will typically come in pill form, it can be in powder form, it can be given to someone as 100% fentanyl. Often it is mixed with other compounds or drugs and so many people don’t know that they are taking it. But now we’re starting to see it come in colored form, or rainbow form. Again, that can be in powder or block or almost chalk form, so it can look like sidewalk chalk and rainbow pills. And those look like the candy SweeTarts.
And because this has been a relatively new phenomenon regarding the rainbow fentanyl, and as Halloween is so close, parents need to be particularly concerned about what their children are ingesting for Halloween because it has been found in Nerds candy packaging as well as Skittles.
Aschieris: And I know that they also found it last week in New York City in a Lego box, which, just seeing the images of that was crazy. I mean, where is it coming from primarily, at least the rainbow fentanyl itself?
Ries: Well, fentanyl generally is being put together in Mexico. The precursor ingredients are largely coming from China, but then they’re being mixed in Mexico, and then brought across our very open southern border with Mexico. And this is no different.
Aschieris: How has the fentanyl crisis worsened since President [Joe] Biden took office?
Ries: Well, we’ve now had two consecutive years of historic drug overdose deaths. The prior year was over 100,000 Americans and now we’re at 107,000 Americans dying from drug overdoses. And this can be directly linked to our open border.
Because what happens is the cartels in Mexico have complete operational control of the border. They will send large groups of people across the border in one area, knowing that Border Patrol [has] to go to that group and process them in, leaving open large swaths of other parts of the border through which the cartels will send drug smugglers.
While the media is giving very limited coverage to the border crisis, what we are seeing tends to be women and children, families, being loaded on or off of buses, planes, etc. What Americans aren’t seeing are the military-aged men dressed head to toe in camouflage carrying very large backpacks crossing the border. Those are the “gotaways.”
We’ve had a million gotaways in this administration and that is how the drugs are coming through largely. They’re also coming in through the ports. But, again, [Customs and Border Protection] is just so limited in having to deal with the migrants crossing that it just makes it quite easy to smuggle drugs across.
Aschieris: Now, has CBP always been limited or has that been because of Biden administration policies?
Ries: It’s because of the policies. When you have an open border, when you don’t enforce the immigration law, and when you require your Border Patrol agents to process illegals into the country rather than protect the border and expel them from the country, then the agents call themselves travel agents for this. So they’re not able to do their job, nor is ICE, Immigration Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for interior enforcement. Their hands have been completely tied.
Aschieris: I just want to ask one last question about the rainbow fentanyl before we move on. With Halloween coming up, what are some tips for parents to be able to spot it? As you said, it’s being put into Nerds boxes or even Skittles. What’s your advice for parents in terms of being able to basically be that interception between their child and potentially consuming fentanyl?
Ries: They need to talk to their kids as best they can age appropriately to look out for rainbow-colored candy and two, parents themselves should be checking packaging. Has the package, does it appear like it was tampered with? And then open it up and see what are the contents. If it’s anything that’s looking like pills, just throw that out. So far, chocolate has been safe, so maybe stick to chocolate.
Aschieris: OK. I will definitely stick to chocolate. I want to talk a little bit more about the border crisis more broadly. The United States and Mexico agreed to a new policy that would expel asylum-seeking Venezuelan migrants to Mexico under Title 42. Can you talk more about this new policy and what you think the impact of this policy could be?
Ries: Yeah, so, this is a brand new program for Venezuelans that the Department of Homeland Security announced. It’s called Volunteering for Venezuela. And it’s now the third program that this administration has created for nationals of a particular country.
The first one was Operation Allies Welcome, which dealt with the Afghan evacuees after the debacle in Kabul, thanks to this administration. The second program was Uniting for Ukraine. And so this is becoming a pattern, it’s a nationality whack-a-mole, and it’s a very chaotic approach to immigration.
Instead, what the administration should be doing is sticking with the avenues to lawfully immigrate that are already on the books. They talk about that this is for those that are seeking asylum. Well, the administration should be using the preexisting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, but instead they’re allowing people to apply for this program, online, from overseas, and it doesn’t even require that they in fact apply for asylum. The announcement from DHS says it’s about applying for work authorization. So what happened to this being about asylum and refugee protection?
There’s a few nuggets of goodness in their announcement in that [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas said, “There’s a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the U.S. and lawful entry is the only way.” Hallelujah. Why not apply that to nationals from any country?
There’s a glimpse of the “Remain in Mexico” program that this administration’s gone back to. That was a very effective program during the last administration.
They’re also using Title 42, which is ironic in that, one, it’s a flip-flop. This administration wanted to and announced it would end that program. Now they’re using it for this program. But what it shows is that border agents need an authority to immediately turn back migrants when there’s a crisis. Not just a public health crisis, but when conditions warrant it.
So it’s not going to have an impact, certainly, on overall illegal alien apprehension numbers. And I don’t foresee a serious impact with respect to Venezuelans. It’s 24,000 Venezuelans. The administration has already admitted they’ll consider increasing that number. The special-interest groups have already said that they will lobby for more. And we have to assume that Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti are lobbying for their own programs.
So the solution is to use the Refugee Admissions Program we use for every other part of the globe. I don’t know why the Western Hemisphere gets an exception to that.
Aschieris: Now, I’m sure our audience is aware of the migrant buses that have landed in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Martha’s Vineyard. And I want to get your thoughts on some comments made by CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus about these Republican governors busing migrants to these various cities in the country.
He said, “It’s safe to say what’s going on is a pull factor, which is somewhat ironic given the criticism from some of these same governors involved in this about various pull factors that they claim already exist.”
What are your thoughts on this observation from Magnus? Is there any truth to it?
Ries: The pull factor is the Biden administration’s policies. If they hadn’t opened the border, these people wouldn’t be coming in the first place. So you’ve got Magnus and the vice president and the mayors conveniently pointing at Republican governors when they need to be pointing at themselves and at the White House. That’s where their ire should be directed.
If they were serious about solving this problem, they would ask the White House to secure the border. Instead, they just asked for more money to pay for it.
Aschieris: And you bring up the vice president. She was actually on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” a few nights ago, and he asked, “What is the path forward for the border crisis and the immigration crisis that we’re seeing?” Let’s take a listen to that clip now. So, it’s just this clip.
Seth Meyers: I think one of the nice things about the [vice president] office is you get to live in the Naval Observatory. One of the current, I would say, downsides of that is the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is participating in a piece of political theater. He is sending migrants, basically dropping them off at your doorstep.
I don’t think that playing games with people’s lives is the solution to this problem, but based on the record amount of arrests at the border, it is a problem. I think we look to our leaders at times like these. What is the path forward?
Vice President Kamala Harris: Well, let’s start with the first point that you made. I mean, we’re talking about people who have fleed great harm, they’ve fled great harm and they are coming here seeking refuge. And talk about political theater, I mean, playing games with people’s lives—like, with their lives.
There were mothers with sleeping babies getting off those buses and I just think it’s an absolute dereliction of duty. If you see a problem, and if we agree that we need to address it, then if you’re a leader, participate in a solution, right?
When we first came in office, the first bill that we proposed was for a pathway for citizenship, was to fix a broken immigration system, which was broken under the previous administration. Participate in the solution because we are offering solutions.
But instead, this gamesmanship with real human beings who trust us.
Aschieris: So, I want to talk about two things that Vice President Harris said in her comments. She talked about participating in a solution and the broken immigration system. Now, as the vice president, how has she and the Biden administration more broadly so far in the last year and a half that they’ve been in office participated in a solution to fix the border system?
Ries: Well, it’s been the opposite. I mean, she was named the border czar. She hasn’t gone down to the actual border to see migrants crossing illegally. And it’s quite hypocritical to say that these state governors, who are completely underwater in dealing with the results from the Biden administration’s open borders, that they are the problem in trying to send migrants elsewhere in the country.
The administration has tried to, and mostly has been successful, quietly transporting illegal aliens all over the country ever since they’ve been in office. Every once in a while we’ll see a video of a plane unloading at a private airport on a private jet in Tennessee or Pennsylvania or New York.
So the administration themselves are transporting illegal aliens every day throughout the country. They just don’t talk about it and they don’t want any media attention on it. And then when there is attention, because these governors are themselves trying to provide some relief to their state constituents, then this administration blames the governors. It’s quite galling.
Aschieris: And we talked a little bit about Remain in Mexico earlier in relation to this new program with Mexico and Venezuelan migrants. But if you were to offer any advice or some solutions for the administration to adopt, what would those be?
Ries: To completely return to the Remain in Mexico program because it stops the asylum fraud, it stops the caravans, and it applies consequences to illegal immigration. And that’s what is sorely needed to enforce the law and to prevent fraud.
As well as implement the “safe third country” notion, which is, if asylum is about protection, it’s about saving lives, and if someone is fleeing for their life, they would seek protection in the first safe country in which they arrive, not traverse multiple countries just to get to the U.S. and then say, “Oh, I can’t go back. You have to give me asylum.”
Those people should be sent back to that first safe third country in which they arrived. And if they don’t apply for asylum there, which they often don’t, when this is carried out, then it points to fraud in the first place.
Those are just two very effective programs that the administration did. And again, with the way they’re approaching this Volunteering for Venezuela program, they use a bit of that ingredient, but not sufficiently.
Aschieris: And just one last question. Is there anything regarding the border crisis, the fentanyl crisis that you want to include that you think the media is missing in its coverage?
Ries: It’s just very important that Americans connect the dots between the fentanyl crisis that we’re seeing and the open border, that the fentanyl is coming across that border and killing so many young people. And that Americans put pressure on their representatives at state, local, and federal level and the White House to secure that border and save American lives.
Aschieris: Well, Lora, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. I really appreciate your insight and for giving us a great rundown on the fentanyl crisis and the border crisis that our country is facing. Thank you so much.
Ries: My pleasure. Thank you.
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