MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — After participating in a congressional hearing held Friday on the South Texas border regarding economic growth and development of the region, a few Republican members of the special committee toured the Rio Grande and shifted their attention to border security.

Four members of the U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth boarded heavily armed boats operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety that were launched from Anzalduas Park in the early afternoon. They explored the banks of the Rio Grande overlooking the cartel-infested Mexican border city of Reynosa for over an hour before holding a media briefing in which they proclaimed the need to secure America’s borders to guarantee economic prosperity.

Despite the impetus for the visit to the border to focus on economic disparities of the region, developing better infrastructure, Internet services and roadways for cross-border trade, several lawmakers repeatedly tweeted on social media about border security on Friday even before they received the boat tour.

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisconsin, was among four GOP members of the U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth to tour the Rio Grande from Anzalduas Park on June 17, 2022 in Mission, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Before they departed, ranking GOP committee member Bryan Steil, of Wisconsin, told Border Report that border security is directly tied to the economic outcome.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Steil said. “All of this is tied together. When a community is not able to use the resources to address the challenges that they face any given day and instead they’re forced to use those resources to address an unsecured border that hurts everybody including the least amongst us.”

Steil said during the morning congressional hearing that the bipartisan committee heard from a resident and local leaders about the costs associated with thousands of immigrants coming across the border illegally.

On Thursday evening and into the early Friday morning hours, the GOP members also went along with law enforcement and toured areas where migrants are smuggled into the country, Border Report was told.

“What we saw firsthand here in South Texas is a need in the community to secure our border. There’s many challenges in cities across the U.S. and we saw some of those challenges here in South Texas but I believe we can free up a lot of funding if we ultimately secure our border.”

Two DPS-driven boats carried Republican members of Congress along the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas, on June 17, 2022, after they held a day of economic hearings in South Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Their visit came on the same day and time that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited the area and held a border briefing at Anzalduas International Bridge, a mile away

Abbott was in town to receive a border update from DPS officials in Weslaco, Texas, the same town where the House lawmakers held a roundtable discussion and then a congressional hearing earlier Friday.

The Republican lawmakers are the minority group of the economic committee, and staff officials told Border Report the lawmakers wanted to get an up-close first-hand view of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.

For over a year, DPS troopers, boats and Texas National Guard members have been sent to the Rio Grande Valley and along the Texas-Mexico border to bolster security at a time when Abbott has repeatedly said the Biden administration is failing to secure the border.

Migrant encounter numbers released this week from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show the highest one-month totals for the Southwest border on record.

Nationwide there was a 4% increase from April, with law enforcement making 273,308 migrant encounters in May, according to CBP.

But that doesn’t break out the number of getaways –those not encountered — or migrants who attempted to cross the border from Mexico multiple times. And GOP lawmakers on Friday noted that they believe that more needs to be done to stop that trend.

“The state of Texas is spending roughly $2 billion a year on border security and instead we should be using federal dollars,” Steil said. “What is so important is we see the impact that an unsecured border has not only here in South Texas but also around the country from fentanyl to human trafficking, the list goes on.”

The special committee was formed a year ago by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and has held field events in Ohio, San Francisco and Wisconsin, but this was its first trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

Prior to the boat ride, Steil told a lawmaker who came from Florida: “Down here it’s way worse than you expected.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com