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AG Column: Generally Speaking - January 2024

I had the honor of testifying recently before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security about how the nation’s border crisis is imperiling public safety in Oklahoma. The Biden Administration’s failure to secure our border is a threat to public safety in our state and throughout the country.

The border crisis is not simply a political topic for the talking heads on Fox News. As I travel across Oklahoma, I hear real stories from local law enforcement about Mexican drug cartels and Chinese crime syndicates running illegal marijuana grow operations. That’s why I started the first-ever Organized Crime Task Force in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to take on this dangerous threat.

The primary focus of this task force is to identify and shut down illegal grow operations. My agents, in partnership with other law enforcement entities, report a distinct pattern for how this criminal element of foreign nationals infiltrate Oklahoma’s marijuana market. Typically, they conduct a “straw” purchase of rural property just outside city limits. Sometimes they have a front man lease the real estate. Either way, the criminals take steps to conceal their activities. It is commonplace to see that they have pushed up a berm to prevent visibility from the roads. They often will post armed personnel to stand watch.

These sights, understandably, are terrifying for rural communities. We already have seen how illegal grows can erupt in deadly violence. In November of 2022, a Chinese national allegedly shot to death four people on a 10-acre marijuana farm in Kingfisher County. Investigators say the man had demanded repayment of $300,000 that he claimed to have invested into the operation.

The problems extend well beyond black-market pot. With so much illegal marijuana being cultivated in Oklahoma, the contraband of choice being smuggled across the nation’s southwest border is now fentanyl, an opioid as addictive as it is deadly. Moreover, every single case being investigated by the Organized Crime Task Force (and there are more than 60) involves some level of labor trafficking.

Our state’s law enforcement community is working hard to end this criminal pestilence. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and scores of local agencies deserve praise for their heroic efforts. But as I told Congress during my recent testimony, the many successes of law enforcement are mitigated when criminal illegal immigrants are allowed to continue streaming across the border unimpeded.

In the field, my agents who come across illegal immigrants at an illegal marijuana farm know all too well that federal agents will be of limited help. Under the Biden Administration’s current policy, immigrants are only detained and deported under limited circumstances.  This policy effectively puts the criminal in control. Public safety takes a back seat.

As Oklahoma’s chief law officer, I am wholly committed to holding bad actors accountable and ridding our state of these criminal operations. But we cannot do it alone. Until the Biden Administration acts to secure the nation’s border, law enforcement will be at a disadvantage, and our communities will remain in peril.