LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — The Democratic leader of the House toured the South Texas border for the first time on Friday and dared Republicans to come up with “real solutions” to immigration reform, rather than political attention.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said he was “enlightened” on his first trip to the border, and he invited his colleagues in Washington, D.C., to make the effort and also take a trip to see the U.S. border with Mexico for themselves.
“I’m going to continue to encourage my colleagues in Washington — as part of trying to arrive at a comprehensive solution — to take a field trip and come down to the border communities, and speak to the people who experience life on the border,” Jeffries told reporters after touring the World Trade Bridge — the largest inland commercial port on the Southwest border — with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.
“We do need a congressional solution. We need comprehensive immigration reform that is both humane and also respects the rule of law and the traditions of public safety and border communities,” Jeffries said. “That effort will be achieved if people on the other side of the aisle will be willing, in our view, to have straight-forward, authentic, direct conversations that don’t politicize the issue but are striving to achieve real solutions.”
His visit came a day after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy toured a remote section of the Arizona border on Thursday with four freshmen Republican lawmakers.
And it followed the first in-field hearing of this new Republican-led Congress that was held Wednesday night in the Rio Grande Valley border town of Weslaco, Texas.
During that hearing, the issue of deadly fentanyl crossing the border from Mexico was repeatedly brought up.
On Friday, Jeffries agreed illicit drugs are killing Americans and traffickers must be stopped. And he advocated that Congress spend more federal funds on technology to help border law enforcement agents to detect illegal drugs.
“The challenge of fentanyl is a serious one, it’s a real one,” Jeffries said. “That’s why it’s important that Congress further invest and provide our Border Patrol officials and our Customs (and Border Protection) officials with the technology necessary to intercept fentanyl and other narcotics that are being illegally trafficked across this border and across the United States of America,” he said.
Over 200,000 commercial trucks crossed south to Mexico over the World Trade Bridge in December, according to the City of Laredo.
Jeffries said more advanced technology will help CBP officers to detect drugs and illegal cargo crossing at this port.
Cuellar, who serves as chief deputy whip in the House, thanked Jeffries for his visit and said he had two days of tours planned for the Democratic leader.
“What we’ve done here is just to have a very balanced view of everything we have. We saw the importance of trade, of tourism that is so important to us,” said Cuellar, who is from Laredo. “We talked about how we look at border security in a balanced way.”
Cuellar is the ranking member on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, which oversees the billions of dollars that are given annually to DHS, Border Patrol and CBP.
Cuellar said Jeffries was in town in time to enjoy Laredo’s Washington Birthday Celebration, which includes the Abrazo Ceremony. That’s when leaders from Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, meet in the middle of an international bridge and hug.
Cuellar said that this year Jeffries would be part of that ceremony and join hands high above the Rio Grande with the governor of Tamaulipas Dr. Americo Villareal Anaya “that shows the symbolic relationship between Mexico and the U.S.”
According to the Hill, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing near the border in Yuma, Arizona next Thursday, and members of the House Homeland Security Committee will go to El Paso, Texas, next week as part of a “border boot camp,” with a focus on educating freshman members on daily operations of CBP and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com