House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) visited Cuellar’s home district in Loredo, Texas today, to tour the border a day after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy led a Republican delegation to the border in Arizona.
The pair of Democratic lawmakers held a press conference on Friday afternoon, following an initial meeting with local officials and stakeholders.
“President Biden and the Biden administration has taken some decisive steps that in particular has eased some of the migration pressures from countries like Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” Jeffries said. “But we do need a congressional solution. We do need a comprehensive immigration reform that is both humane but also respects the rule of law and the tradition of public safety and the importance of that for border communities.”
According to a press release shared with Fox News, Jeffries and Cuellar would receive a briefing from local authorities on smuggling. The Democrat leaders would also take an aerial tour of the border and then meet with border sheriffs and local mayors. At the press conference, Cuellar said they would also meet with Américo Villarreal, the governor of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, on Saturday.
Jeffries said border officials briefed him and Cuellar about their drug smuggling concerns at the border. Jeffries said it’s important for Democrats and Republicans to address this together.
The House Democratic Party leader said Congress should focus on providing Border Patrol officials with more technology to intercept fentanyl.
“Everyone has been pretty clear with us today that it will be that investment in technology and innovation that will dramatically increase our ability to stop the flow of fentanyl and other drugs into the United States of America,” Jeffries said. “That’s something that House Democrats have led on.”
Cueller said he and Jeffries traveled to Loredo to gain a “balanced view” of the conditions at the border.
“We saw the importance of trade, tourism, which is so important to us,” Cuellar said. “What we talked about was to have a balance with how we look at border security in a balanced way.”
Dueling Border Visits
McCarthy traveled to the Tucson, Arizona border sector on Thursday, along with Reps. Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.), Jen Kiggans (R-Va.), and Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.).
The Tucson sector is known for its high number of “got-aways,” a term referring to people who crossed the border illegally that border authorities knew about but were unable to apprehend.
During their visit, Republicans accused President Joe Biden and his administration of failing to implement necessary border security measures.
“Why has this region gone from 66,000 people coming across to 250,000? Why does everybody wear camouflage outfits and rugs on their feet [to avoid detection]? Why are we catching so much fentanyl? The only thing that’s changed was the administration and the administration policies,” McCarthy said in a Thursday press conference.
“Why is that happening? On the day President Biden was sworn in—when you look at the gaps in the wall—why are they there? Why are these lights not working?” McCarthy continued. “Because we’ve got a new president [who] said to stop it. We paid for the metal to go up, but it’s stored far away.”
The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee is also planning to hold a hearing on border security at the Yuma City Hall Council Chambers in Arizona on Feb. 23. Fox News reported several Democrats on the committee have decided to boycott that hearing.
The Biden administration, on Thursday, also criticized the Republican border visit.
“House Republicans should spend less time on partisan publicity stunts and more time working on solutions,” White House spokesperson Ian Sams said in a statement shared with The Hill. “Solutions are what President Biden is focused on, and his plan is working. House Republicans would be wise to join him to work together to strengthen our immigration system and fund border security.”
Biden carried out his own border visit in January.
Biden’s Border Policies
Republicans have criticized Biden-era border policies, such as his decision to stop border wall construction and end the pandemic-era Title 42 policies that allowed border officials to promptly return individuals found illegally crossing the border.
Biden, in return, has accused the Republican party of inaction on immigration reforms.
In his first days in office, Biden supported a bill called the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.” The bill includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally. Many Republicans and conservatives opposed the bill in 2021 for supporting a pathway to citizenship without any additional spending for border security.
Despite record-high numbers of people and drugs crossing the border, Biden administration officials have insisted that the border is secure.
During a hearing last week, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said increases in fentanyl seizures at the border under the Biden administration may be indicative of improved border security rather than a worsening crisis.
“What’s interesting about this is, of course, we had a change of president in 2020 and some changes in border policy, and what we can see here is that the facts show we are seizing a lot more fentanyl,” Porter said. “And for me, as a mom, that is a sign of success.”