The Trump administration sure seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the City of Lawrence.
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Concord, N.H., touting a federal plan to get tougher on fentanyl dealers in cities hit hardest by the opiate abuse crisis. But he couldn’t resist socking it to The Immigrant City because, well, The Immigrant City.
In case you missed it, Sessions touted recent trafficking arrests by the feds in New Hampshire of some 45 people who were allegedly dealing fentanyl, including, Sessions said, “four illegal aliens residing in the sanctuary city of Lawrence, Mass.”
“There can be no sanctuary” for fentanyl dealers, he added.
So absurd, so malicious. There is no sanctuary for fentanyl dealers in Lawrence, or anywhere. Undocumented immigrants who commit crimes are arrested and charged like anybody else in the city would be. To hear Sessions talk, you’d think Lawrence was crawling with dealers slinging their deadly wares with impunity, blessed by authorities because they’re undocumented immigrants.
Like many of us, Mayor Dan Rivera has had it up to here with this nonsense. On Friday, he threatened to sue Sessions for libel.
“They know it’s not true, but they keep perpetuating a lie,” Rivera said. “No one wants to protect criminals. We have arrested people who are undocumented who were selling drugs. We’re just not going to be some Gestapo state, going after law-abiding people because they don’t have documents.”
But that distinction is not useful to Sessions, just as it was not useful to President Trump, who laid into Lawrence in March. What is useful is having somebody to scapegoat — especially when it comes to a giant, intractable, expensive problem like the opioid abuse crisis. And so, even though only four of the 45 people arrested in that fentanyl bust were undocumented, they — and the city that did not in fact protect them — are singled out and blamed for this.
And everything else, of course. When you’ve got nothing to offer but truculent nativism and contempt for government, just about every problem this country faces can be laid at the feet of undocumented immigrants. To this administration, opiate addiction isn’t primarily about demand — about treating addicts and saving lives. It’s yet another cudgel with which to bludgeon brown people and fire up the base. And it works: Millions of Americans eager for simple answers to hard questions keep buying the cynical gambit, even as more opioid users perish.
And perish they do, in Lawrence as everywhere. At the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, doctors are trying to hold back the grim tide of overdoses. They know how to do it — by giving vulnerable people better medical and mental health services, providing easier access to treatment beds, and using life-saving medications like Suboxone and methadone. All of it is difficult and expensive, says CEO John Silva.
“It’s amazing to watch how this administration seems to blame all of the ills of society on illegal immigrants,” he said. “It’s absurd on its face. If the administration would just take the time to look at the facts, the arrest reports, the folks dying of opioid abuse . . . but their narrative is completely turned on its head.” In his experience, those on both sides of the supply chain come from all over, including the nice suburbs surrounding Lawrence.
How demoralizing it must be, trying so hard to keep people alive as the nation’s highest officials pummel your city to score cheap political points.
“We need to focus more on . . . effective treatment instead of picking on illegal immigrants,” said Mia Sorcinelli, head of the office-based addiction treatment program at the health center. “Great. You arrested them. But what is that going to do to the demand, which is still going to be there until we can treat people and cut it?”
It’s not clear this administration cares to answer that question.
It’s too subtle. It’s too real. And there are no votes in it.Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.