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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Since he started working for the sheriff’s department in a rural county in Illinois a few years ago, Howard Buffett, the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, has seen drug addiction lead to poverty, prostitution, overdoses and suicide. As he told Axios over dinner, he believes tougher border security is a key solution:

"You think about 65,000 people died last year from drug overdoses, and about 50% of them came from illegal drugs out of Mexico... If it happened any other way, people would go nuts."
— Howard Buffett

The big picture: President Trump has called for 2,000 to 4,000 members of the National Guard to be sent to the border until his infamous wall can be built, which he has claimed will "keep the damn drugs out."

Axios sat down with Buffett to discuss his recently released book, "Our 50-State Border Crisis." Here are some of the highlights:

  • Buffett has been serving as the sheriff of Macon County, Illinois since September, and will leave the position this November. This has led to his work with the department's drug rehabilitation program, which provided an up-close look at the impact of drug addiction.
I would have used to talk about drug addiction, now I live it.
His solutions
  1. Securing the border. Buffett owns multiple ranches along the southern border, where he's witnessed smugglers using his property to transport loads of illegal drugs from Mexico into the U.S. It was after showing Senator Heidi Hetikamp (D-N.D.) videos of smugglers making their way through his property that he decided to write the book with Heitkamp's encouragement.
  2. Investing in countries of origin like Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. He says helping these countries develop their economies and law enforcement would not only help restrict the cartels, but also lower the number of asylum-seekers and refugees escaping to the U.S.
"We're going to pay for it one way or another, so we either pay for it in this country fighting all of the pieces we're fighting now, or we can pay for it by trying to rebuild the country where people are coming from."
More from the conversation
  • On using the National Guard: He told Axios that while the National Guard could offer some needed help at the border, it's an "inefficient and expensive way to do it," as they have no authority to arrest or detain immigrants crossing the border. He suggested that the Coast Guard might be a better option to help guard the Rio Grande.
  • On legalizing marijuana: Buffett said that he believes there are several unintended consequences to states legalizing marijuana, including taking business from Mexican marijuana growers which has led to "the increased production of poppies and that's why heroin is so cheap and easy to get."
"I don't know how we have a workforce in 20 years that's a reliable, dependable workforce if they're either in jail on a drug arrest, they can't get out of bed Monday morning cause they've been so high on the weekend, they can't pass a drug test — what are you going to put them on: a forklift or a bulldozer or a truck?"
  • What most surprised him most as sheriff: "How people live in this country." He described walking into homes without suitable beds for children and trash on the floor. "There are a lot of people living at or below the poverty line ... but it's still surprising to see it."

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
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COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

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