WASHINGTON — The borders of West Virginia may sit thousands of miles away from the southern border of the United States, but, according to U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the immigration issues there are very relevant to Mountain State residents.

Capito, R-W.Va., said during a Thursday virtual briefing that securing the country’s southern border is crucial to the health and well-being of West Virginians and other Appalachian residents. Capito spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday, calling for stronger border protections in the national security supplemental bill.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday kept the bill from receiving the 60 votes needed for cloture, which would have allowed the full Senate to debate it and offer amendments. The bill included aid for Ukraine and Israel and funding to help push China back out of Taiwan, all of which Capito said she supported.

Yet, she continued Thursday, it didn’t have what she considered significant border policy changes, which led her to vote against the bill.

“This is a national security problem,” Capito said of illegal crossings into the U.S. from the south. “It is a safety problem for our country. We don’t know who they are. They’re coming from other countries besides their traditional ones from south and central South America. And I think they present a great challenge to our own homeland security.

“And so (President Joe Biden) keeps saying the immigration system is broken,” she continued. “He’s right. Let’s fix it. Let’s fix it with policy, and that’s what we are negotiating for.”

Capito said the growing numbers of people crossing at the border have a trickle-down effect that can hurt West Virginians. Because of those increased numbers, she said, border patrol officers are spending more time dealing with unaccounted-for people.

That pulls their attention away from the illegal drugs that are crossing the border.

Those drugs are making their way into West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia, Capito said.

“They say 90% of the fentanyl comes through the border,” she said “and heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine. These are killing our young people, our productive citizens, our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers.

“So that’s why this is important to West Virginia,” she continued, “because it’s all interconnected. And anything that’s unsafe at the southern border is going to allow more drugs to come through and destroy our communities.”

Capito also said West Virginians are fair-minded people, who understand and appreciate that people from other countries want to come to the United States for the benefits the country offers. Yet, she added, they don’t believe it’s right if someone crosses the border illegally and “jumps to the front of the line.”

“That’s not fair,” she said. “It’s not lawful. It’s not legal. And so I think West Virginians, even if they’re untouched by the drug epidemic, they’re touched by the unfairness of what’s occurring and the lawlessness that we see at the border with any kind of impunity or any deterrence (that) is not offered by this administration.”

Capito offered some suggestions to improve border security. She wants the federal government to be more effective in screening asylum claims at the beginning rather than the end. She said that a vast majority of people entering the country claim asylum, and then wait eight to 10 years for their asylum case to come before a court. When that finally happens, she continued, only about 10% of the claims that reach a court are deemed legitimate.

She also suggested a “safe third country” policy that other countries use. With a safe third country situation, if a person passes through a safe country on their way to a final destination in another country, they must first ask for asylum in that first safe country.

“Those are some of the things,” she said. “I’m not saying I need to have all those things, but those are some of the ideas I was very much in favor of.”