[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a reaction from U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas]

HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — Female congressional candidates from across the country learned during a tour of the South Texas border about the horrors that migrants face, including the sexual assault and human trafficking of women and children.

During an outdoor roundtable discussion held just feet from the Rio Grande on Tuesday, the group was told of escalating numbers of rapes and assaults of migrants as they try to cross the border from Mexico.

“It was very sensitive and it was heartbreaking to me as a woman, as a mother to hear of the human trafficking aspect of it and just to hear of the women who are raped and who are trafficked and there is something we can do about it but we’re not,” said Tiffany Smiley, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Washington state, told Border Report.

The candidates were part of the conservative nonprofit Winning for Women border tour on Tuesday. They came from Kansas, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, Washington state and included three GOP candidates from South Texas.

U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Texas, far right, was joined by Texas Republican congressional candidates Cassy Garcia, far left, and Monica De La Cruz, on a border tour to Hidalgo, Texas, on Tuesday, Aug. 30, sponsored by the conservative nonprofit Winning for Women. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“I’m honored to be here with Winning for Women and other congressional candidates throughout the country who care about securing our southern border, so it’s real great for them to be here to see firsthand what is happening, what resources are needed to secure our southern border,” Cassy Garcia, the Republican candidate for Texas’ 28th Congressional District 28, told Border Report.

Monica De La Cruz, who is running for Texas’s 15th Congressional District, said border security is the No. 1 issue in her district, which includes the border city of McAllen.

“I wanted to hear from local leaders and I wanted to hear from local organizations and from the sheriff and DA’s office to find out what they are seeing here along the border,” she said.

Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez said he tries to get any information he can from victims, including tattoos, piercings, missing digits or other features that could help law enforcement identify those who sexually assault women and migrants.

Othal Brand Jr., president of the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3, told the group that Border Patrol agents encounter between 200 and 300 migrants every day in the area they were touring, which the District owns.

He said that “headless bodies” sometimes float on their banks, which he believes are victims of Mexican cartels that operate south of the river.

Othal Brand Jr., center, president of the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3, led a border tour for female Republican candidates in Hidalgo, Texas, on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

In July, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley Sector came across migrants crossing the border 35,108 times, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s latest statistics.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores took office this year to fill an open seat for Texas Congressional District 34. She faces U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat, in November. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican who represents the border to the Gulf Coast, immigrated from Mexico at age 6. She told Border Report that she feels for the migrants who are victimized as they try to cross the Rio Grande.

“Child sex trafficking is real and we need to put an end to it. And the only way to end child sex trafficking is by securing the borders,” Flores said. “This is a humanitarian crisis. This is why we’re screaming, ‘protect these children.’ I don’t care where they’re from. They’re completely innocent. Can we come together? This shouldn’t be a Democrat or Republican issue. Can’t we come together for these children and bring them safety and peace?”

Flores has called for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for creating “open borders” and said it is “a top priority.”

Should House Republicans gain the majority in November, The Hill on Tuesday reported that several Republican members in Congress want to impeach Biden or members of his cabinet.

Mayorkas has said that stopping sex trafficking is an agency priority and the Center for Countering Human Trafficking leverages 16 DHS agencies to stop sex trafficking and forced labor.

“Combating human trafficking is truly a whole of DHS effort,” Mayorkas said earlier this year.

A section of border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Flores said she doesn’t blame migrants for trying to cross into the United States illegally, but she does blame Democrats, like her opponent, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, for putting in place policies that she says encourage them to cross.

“I’m not blaming the immigrant. I’m blaming the Administration. I’m blaming Vicente Gonzalez for supporting policies that continue to create them to come into the U.S. illegally knowing that they’re going to have to go through hell,” Flores said.

Gonzalez, who currently represents District 15, is running in District 34 after the Texas Legislature redistricted the region and his home moved districts. He told Border Report that he has brought bipartisan congressional groups to tour the South Texas border and has proposed a plan for “safe zones” for migrants in other countries.

“I brought Democrats and Republicans who are actually interested in solutions and not just photo-ops during election season. My office developed the safe zone act, which we have proposed to the administration. This proposal develops safe zones in Central America where migrants can ask for asylum in their home or neighboring countries.  This would prevent them from having to make the trek to our southern border to ask for asylum. This would take the pressure off our southern border and remove the cartel element.  This is the only real solution to solving what’s happening in South Texas,” Gonzalez said.

Republican candidate Cassy Garcia on Tuesday Aug. 30, 2022, in front of the Rio Grande overlooking Mexico from Hidalgo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Garcia is running against longtime Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in November. She told Border Report that she has received the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council “because they know I will always have their back and fight for them,” she said.

Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee, told Border Report he has always worked to bring additional funds and resources to Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

“I have been dedicated to supporting our border law enforcement personnel with pay raises, healthcare and mental health support, education funding, equipment, technology, uniform allowance, and other resources. My accomplishments as the Vice-Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee speak for themselves and demonstrate my continued commitment to securing our southern border,” Cuellar said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com