Virginia National Guard logo.
Virginia National Guard logo.

Governor Glenn Youngkin made a grave mistake when he sent 100 Virginia National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexico border in May, at the request of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The two governors claimed that the National Guard would help stop the flow of fentanyl, immigrants and human trafficking into the United States.

This action involves our Virginia National Guard in a political fight that they did not sign up to serve and is outside their mission. The Guard’s responsibilities are defined by law and do not include drug control or immigration enforcement.

The Guard’s Role

Virginia’s National Guard is a proud force of Virginians who volunteer to serve the public and traces its proud history to the militia formed to protect Jamestown in 1607. It served in numerous early conflicts such as the French and Indian War, the War of 1812 and virtually every one of our country’s wars. Today, the Virginia National Guard’s primary mission is to protect our community during emergencies and disasters, support law enforcement during civil unrest and support the United States military during declared military campaigns. Most recently, they helped quell the unrest in Washington, D.C. during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

News reports indicate that the troops will be deployed to “listening posts” near the Texas-Mexico border. By law, they are not allowed to make arrests or conduct immigration enforcement. Staffing border listening posts is not consistent with their authorized duties and is a waste of their time.  

Stopping Fentanyl

There is bipartisan agreement that fentanyl abuse has become a crisis in America.  It is a cheaply manufactured drug that creates and feeds addiction and poses overdose risks like few other drugs. Fentanyl is not being smuggled into America by undocumented immigrants crossing the desert to escape poverty, political persecution and gangs. The drug comes into America through ports of entry in shipping containers and 18-wheeler trucks. The precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl in Mexico come from China. 

No one supports human trafficking, but stopping international human trafficking across countries’ borders is not the Virginia National Guard’s responsibility. Last week, the Virginia State Police issued its 2022 Crime Report which reported a total of 26 Virginia human trafficking arrests out of 26,085 total arrests for crimes against persons. Sending 100 National Guard troops to Texas is unlikely to stop human trafficking in our state.

Finally, Texas is not paying for this deployment. Virginians are. The Governor’s office confirmed that this deployment will cost the state $3.1 million. 

Focus on Real Solutions

Governor Youngkin is pursuing this stunt for two reasons. First, his only solution to the fentanyl crisis is to dredge up “tough on crime,” anti-drug policies that increase penalties or pile crimes on top of existing major crimes. This approach has been a multi-decade failure as part of America’s “War on Drugs.” Numerous studies show that the best way to deter crime is to maximize the chances of being caught and punished. Elected officials at all levels should focus on these approaches.

Virginia should use its precious taxpayer dollars to fund a new Virginia State Police Fentanyl Trafficking Squad. The state should also give grants to Virginia localities who do the same. 

We should also address the demand side of the Fentanyl equation and focus on the core causes of drug addiction which are poverty, depression, and economic hopelessness instead of just locking drug users up longer. Our mental health system is vastly disparate, understaffed and underfunded. We must prioritize treatment and rehabilitation.

National Ambitions

Governor Youngkin’s many trips to campaign in other states clearly signal his presidential ambitions and prioritizing a presidential campaign reaffirms his continued pattern of sacrificing Southwest Virginia’s needs for his personal ambition. Here are two examples. Climate change-related severe downpours are increasingly devastating Virginia mountain towns. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has funded $3.7 million in flood prevention and low-income energy efficiency projects in Montgomery, Wythe, Grayson, Washington, Abingdon and Russell Counties.  More is on the way but Governor Youngkin has led the charge to abandon RGGI and lose these investments. 

Governor Youngkin also turned his back on Southern Virginia when he pulled Virginia out of the running for a $3.5 billion battery plant that would have created 2,500 jobs in Pittsylvania County where median family incomes are $30,000 per year less than the state’s average. He justified rejecting this company because Ford proposed to use Chinese technology. Those jobs and millions in tax revenue that could have funded schools went to Michigan. 

Why is the Governor sensitive to China, the source of fentanyl precursor chemicals? He earned hundreds of millions of dollars as CEO of the Carlyle Group in part through numerous Chinese joint ventures while publicly touting China as a valuable business partner as recently as 2021.  With that history, apparently, the Governor is trying to now be anti-China, a political calculation that he believes makes him more viable nationally. His actions put Southwest Virginia’s interests in second place. 

The Virginia National Guard is made up of Virginians who volunteer to serve. Their valuable time away from their families and jobs should be used judiciously when necessary to protect Virginians and our nation from civil unrest or assist our core military needs. Deployment to achieve the Governor’s presidential ambitions is not consistent with Virginia’s traditions or our National Guard’s proud legacy. It will undermine morale and limit future recruitment. He should bring the National Guard troops home.

Senator Scott A. Surovell is the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. He has represented the...