“HEARST” for Borderland Beat 

Last night, Republican presidential hopefuls answered questions about if they would send US special forces into Mexico to take out fentanyl labs and drug cartel operations. They also commented on President AMLO’s willingness to take on cartels, the use of lethal force on the border, and designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).

The Debate

On August 23, 2023, the first 2024 Republican primary debate was held. The presidential candidates were asked about how they would handle drug smuggling at the southern border and Mexican cartel groups. 

The debate, in full, can be watched at this link. 

The following is a direct transcript of their comments on these specific issues. 

Doug Burgum

Doug Burgum, Governor of North Dakota

We can solve the southern border. Absolutely, we can do that because guess what? 

There’s only 19,855 authorized people for the border patrol but they’re not all [considered to be] staff because the Biden administration does not reinforce law enforcement. 

But the Biden administration wanted to put 87,000 [new staff] in the IRS instead of giving the money and the support we need to our own border patrol. 



Same question to you, Tim Scott.

Tim Scott, Senator from South Carolina

Lets fire the 87,000 IRS agents and hire – or double- the number of border patrol agents. 

I just left Yuma, Arizona, about two weeks ago. The most pressing need of the American people from a Nation Security standpoint is our southern border. 

It has led to the death of 70,000 Americans because of fentanyl plus six million illegal crossings since President Biden has taken office and 200 people on our national security watch list have been caught at our border. How many have not been caught at our southern border? 

If we just spend ten billion dollars, we could finish the wall. For five billion more, we could have the military-grade technology to surveil our southern border to stop the flow of fentanyl and save 70,000 Americans a year. 

That should be the priority of this government and as the next President of the United States, I will make that border wall complete.



I do want to ask –

Doug Burgum

Doug Burgum, Governor of North Dakota

I do want to say I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just the 70,000 from fentanyl, we’ve lost 200,000 people to overdoses since Biden took office. That’s 300 people a day. We’re taking mass casualties – and that’s a statistic but these are sons and daughters, nieces and nephews that we’re losing. 

We’ve got North Dakota troops down there flying night helicopter missions from San Diego to the Gulf Coast, trying to stop these Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs). They’ve got better funding on their side then we’ve got on our side.



Speaking of which, Governor Hutchinson – (interruption)

Earlier this month, images showed suspected cartel members crossing into Texas with rifles [more information on this story here], do you consider this an invasion? Would you authorize lethal force along that border?


Asa Hutchinson

Asa Hutchinson, Former Governor of Arkansas, Former Head of the DEA (from 2001 – 2003)

There would be lethal force used by the Border Patrol and law enforcement, as needed, in order to protect the border – absolutely. 

When you look at the military – the military has to be used for intelligence gathering purposes. This is not unusual.

When I was in the Bush administration, we went down there and met with President Vicente Fox of Mexico and asked for his help in going after the cartels. And he looked at me and said to me ‘They’re a problem to us, as well.’ 

And so, we joined together and we took down the Arellano Felix brothers who were leading the Tijuana Cartel and that made a difference. Ramon was shot and killed. And Benjamin was captured. 

Cooperation makes a difference. We cannot be successful going against the cartels unless we bring in Mexico as a partner.

We have to use economic pressure to accomplish that. President Obrador has not been helpful. And we have to use economic pressure that this administration is not using. 

The rule of law has to matter on both sides. This is critical. I’ve done it, I know what needs to be done – the military has to be limited in it’s use.

After 9/11, we had the global war on terror and guess what? We protected the southern border at the same time. You can do both. [Referencing an earlier disagreement about the ability to help Ukraine while also securing the southern border.]



Ok. Let’s go to Governor DeSantis. So, as president, would you support sending US Special Forces over the border, into Mexico, in order to take out fentanyl labs, to take out drug cartel operations – would you support that kind of American military use?


Ron Desantis

Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida

Yes, and I will do it on day one. Here’s the thing. The cartels are killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens. You want to talk about a country in decline? You have the cartels controlling a lot of part of your southern border. 

We have to reestablish the rule of law and we have to defend our people. The president of the United States has got to use all available powers as commander-in-chief to protect our country and to protect the people.

So when they’re coming across, yes, we’re going to use lethal force. Yes, we reserve the right to operate.

How many more ten of thousands are we going to let to die? I am sick of it. I’ve met Angel Moms [organization of mothers whose children have died from fentanyl poisoning] throughout this country. 

I met a lady in Texas named Tracy and her son took one Percocet that was laced with fentanyl. He immediately died. That is happening all across this country because of the poison that they are bringing in.

So as President, would I use force? Would I treat them as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs)? You’re darn right I would.  



Former Vice President Pence, why would you be better at this issue than Governor DeSantis? Governor DeSantis, on the campaign trail, refers to your administration as ‘not finishing the wall.’

Mike Pence


Mike Pence, Former Vice President

Right, right, look, we secured the southern border of the United States of America and reduced illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90%. When Joe Biden took over, he threw open the southern border of the United States and the wave of humanity, the wave of fentanyl, that’s been so eloquently described here,  as a wave of human tragedy across this country. 

But Martha [name of one of the moderators], you began this evening talking about who is best prepared to be the next president of the United States. 

And I have to tell you with all humility, I was there when we negotiated through the government shut down and got the funding available to build the wall. I was negotiating on Capitol Hill around the clock. I negotiated the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy on behalf of the President of the United States.


And Asa [Hutchinson], you’re so right. It’s because we used economic pressure to bring the Mexicans to the table and they allowed us to have people wait in Mexico while they applied for asylum. It ended asylum abuse overnight. 

We got the Mexicans to deploy their National Guard to their southern border and to our southern border – as never before. And I want to promise you, as President of the United States of America, I will engage with Mexico in that exact same way. And we will partner with the Mexican military and we will hunt down and destroy the cartels that are claiming lives in the United States of America.



 Source: Video of the Full Debate