CHARLESTON – U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito briefed reporters Thursday on her recent trip to Mexico and a bill meant to limit the effects of social media apps and other tech products used by foreign governments.
Capito, R-W.Va., held one of her frequent virtual briefings with reporters Thursday afternoon from the Russell Senate Office Building on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Capito was part of a congressional delegation that traveled to Mexico over the weekend led by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. The delegation met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and intelligence officials.
The lawmakers were briefed on the security situation in Mexico, the kidnapping of four American citizens by a drug cartel resulting in the death of two of the Americans, the trafficking of illegal drugs and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid used to lace other drugs, across the border, and the humanitarian crisis at the southern border.
Capito said she raised concerns with Obrador about the flow of fentanyl from Mexico into the United States and the precursor chemicals coming into Mexico from China.
“We implored the president to be more aggressive with China to prevent these precursors from coming in to stop, hopefully, some of the manufacturing (of fentanyl) that is occurring with the cartels,” Capito said. “He actually said ‘I will forcefully talk with the Chinese about the issue.’ Hopefully, we can stop some of the flow or at least slow it down.”
The Department of Homeland Security announced this week a new initiative, Operation Blue Lotus, to crack down on fentanyl trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border. The operation has already seized more than 200 pounds of fentanyl since the operation launched on March 13.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, 1,134 West Virginians died from fentanyl overdoses in 2021, representing more than 75% of all drug overdose deaths in West Virginia that year.
Capito said she also talked with Mexican officials about the need to stem the flow of illegal migrants from other Central and South American countries trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico.
“Mexico has to be a partner with us in not just stopping the flow of drugs, but also the migration issue,” Capito said. “Our southern border, their northern border, is totally controlled by the cartels. We see a record, over 5 million since the president has taken hold, immigrants flooding into this country. The administration has not done enough, has done very little, to stem the flow.”
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, enforcement encounters at the southern border peaked in December at more than 251,000 encounters. February encounters were nearly 155,000, a 6.6% decrease from February 2022, but a 322% increase from this same time period in 2020.
With Title 42, the Trump-era order that allows board officials to skip the asylum process and deport people who illegally cross the border, possibly going away in May, Capito predicts illegal crossing numbers to increase.
“When Title 42 goes away in May, there’s going to be another flood of humanity at our southern border,” Capito said. “The asylum process is broken.”
Capito also talked about her co-sponsorship of the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act.
The bill gives the U.S. Department of Commerce the authority to review and block potential threats from foreign governments and foreign actors using communications technology products when those products pose a potential threat to U.S. national security. The bill is aimed at communication platforms, such as TikTok, and others that have links to the Chinese government.
“It enables the Department of Commerce to create a risk profile of these and other-like Chinese-owned entities,” Capito said. “We just need to be careful for future generations about what we’re allowing the Chinese to have access to.”
TikTok, a social media program that allows users to share short 15-second viral videos, was developed by ByteDance and is headquartered in China. The company has been accused of collecting data on TikTok users on behalf of the Chinese government.
“I think TikTok is invading our privacy,” Capito said. “We don’t trust the Chinese to set up any firewalls they say they constructed. And I think this is a risk, not just to our younger generation but to our entire population to find ways to find critical infrastructure, to find health issues, to find best ways to reach and groom our younger Americans for purposes that may be crossways with our country.”