Senator Collins also criticized southern border policy that has led to an influx of fentanyl and contributed to record-high overdose deaths
Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A with AG Garland on Title 42.
Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A with AG Garland on overdose deaths.
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, questioned U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland at a subcommittee hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 funding request for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Senator Collins began by asking Attorney General Garland about the Administration’s inconsistent positions on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is claiming that the public health emergency is severe enough to justify reimposing a mask mandate on planes and public transit, while simultaneously arguing that the public health emergency has sufficiently diminished to justify rescinding the Title 42 order, which permits the immediate expulsion of immigrants who illegally attempt to cross the southern border.
Senator Collins: “The Administration has taken conflicting positions on whether or not the COVID pandemic constitutes a public health emergency. Could you please explain to the Subcommittee how the Department can justify arguing in court that the pandemic has subsided enough to warrant the termination of Title 42, which will worsen the problem of tens of thousands of unvaccinated migrants illegally entering the country, while at the same time, arguing in a separate case, that the public health consequences are dire enough to warrant compelled mask usage by Americans on public transportation?”
AG Garland: “…With respect to the mask mandate on the planes, I think this is quite transparent: The CDC announced its assessment, that this was a program that was continued to be necessary in the confines of airplanes and public transportation. The only question for us: ‘is that lawful?’ And they asked us to appeal. The Solicitor General concluded it was lawful, and so we have appealed. With respect to Title 42, it's the same analysis from our side, from the Justice Department's side. The only question here is the CDC's program and the CDC's announcement and its assessment. We defend that program as long as it's lawful. We don't make the public health determinations that you're speaking of.”
Senator Collins: “…I think that the CDC has put the Justice Department in an untenable position of arguing one position in one case and a completely conflicting position in another case, but I understand that you don't make the public health determination.”
Turning to the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, Senator Collins asked Attorney General Garland about how the Administration’s inability to control the border has exacerbated drug trafficking and our country’s opioid crisis.
Senator Collins said: “In the year between September 2020 and September 2021, more than 104,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. In Maine, we set a horrific new record: 636 people died from drug overdoses. That was a 23 percent increase from the previous year. In 2021, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency seized more than 10,000 grams of fentanyl. That's a 67 percent increase from the previous year. Just three months into this year, agents tell me that they have already seized half of last year's total. Law enforcement officials in Maine and elsewhere tell me that these drugs are largely entering the United States through the southern border, where resources that could be targeting drug interdiction are instead being diverted to help with the influx of migrants illegally crossing the border. Do you agree that the government's inability to secure the southern border has led to more drugs coming into our country?”
AG Garland responded: “The opioid epidemic, and particularly the influx of fentanyl, is just horrifying and extraordinarily sad for the large numbers of Americans who are becoming addicted and who have become addicted. The job of the Justice Department is to fight the large-scale drug trafficking organizations that are bringing this money—these drugs—into the country. And that's the reason we have asked for large increases for all of our anti-drug programs. The DEA has asked for a $102 million dollar increase, which is for a total of $3.1 billion to fight the very issues that you're speaking of. The U.S. Marshal Service has asked for a billion dollars for drug trafficking fugitive capture. The U.S. Attorney's Offices: $106 million dollars. The FBI: $161 million. The criminal division: $446.9 million, including regional opioid task forces and the COPS grants. The money that we're giving includes the money for the anti-heroin and anti-meth task forces. So we are asking for all the money we can get and we are not stopping here. As you [no] doubt know, I announced the indictment and extradition of the former president of Honduras to the United States to face justice, for organizing drug trafficking coming out of the Northern Triangle. We will be persistent in that effort.”
Senator Collins has repeatedly criticized the Administration’s mishandling of the crisis at the southern border. Last week, she joined a group of her colleagues in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas seeking answers on recent changes to how the Department enforces border security and processes migrants at the southern border. Earlier in April, she joined a group of her colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary Mayorkas urging the Administration to extend the Title 42 order.
As a member of the Senate Health Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins remains committed to providing local communities with the resources and services they need to combat the opioid epidemic. Last month, she questioned public health officials about the troubling number of nonfatal drug overdoses in Maine and how to better support individuals struggling with addiction.