House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) visited the border city of Laredo, Texas, on Friday, one day after Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) led a group of lawmakers to a different section of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Jeffries and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) — whose district includes Laredo — held meetings and listening sessions with local leaders, including law enforcement, to discuss the challenges and opportunities border communities face. After that, they held a brief press conference outside the City of Laredo’s World Trade Bridge administrative building, where Jeffries called for “a congressional solution” on immigration.
“President Biden, the Biden administration, has taken some decisive steps … that in particular has eased some of the migration pressures from countries like Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela,” Jeffries said, “but we do need a congressional solution.”
“We do need comprehensive immigration reform that is both humane but also respects the rule of law” and public safety, he added.
The new House Republican majority is putting an increased emphasis on the situation at the southern border, where migrant encounters linger near record highs, and on Thursday, McCarthy traveled to the border in Cochise County, Ariz., along with four first-term House Republicans who flipped Democratic-controlled seats in last year’s midterm election.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee investigations and health subcommittees had a joint field hearing in McAllen, Texas, and next week, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing in Yuma, Ariz.
The Thursday visit was McCarthy’s first to the border since becoming Speaker, but securing the border was a key part of McCarthy’s agenda in the lead-up to the November midterm elections and last month’s Speaker’s race, which he won after 15 ballots.
Democrats appear to be refusing to cede the border to the GOP.
In addition to Jeffries’s trip on Friday, two leading Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee announced on Thursday that Democrats on the panel will visit the border next month.
The vow, however, came after the pair — ranking member Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Immigration Integrity Security, and Enforcement Subcommittee — slammed Judiciary Republicans for their “stunt hearing” in Yuma next week, which they said Democrats will not attend. The duo claimed Republicans on the committee did not consult with them, which the GOP side has pushed back on.
“Judiciary Democrats will conduct their own trip to the border next month where we will hear from the community and government officials on the ground,” Nadler and Jayapal wrote.
Jeffries on Friday said Congress can pass comprehensive immigration reform if Republicans cooperate in an effective manner.
“That effort will be achieved if people on the other side of the aisle are willing, in our view, to have straightforward, authentic, direct conversations that don’t politicize the issue, but are designed to achieve real solutions,” he said.
The Democratic leader went on to emphasize the importance of including the experiences of those living in border communities in conversations about immigration reform.
“And what congressman Cuellar has been all about is that facts matter,” Jeffries said. “The experiences matter across the board. Those experiences, as Congressman Cuellar has consistently indicated, should involve the thoughts, ideas, perspective and life experiences of the border communities, such as those here in the city of Laredo.”
“And that will be one of, I think, the more important parts of the trip for me, and I’m gonna continue to encourage my colleagues in Washington — as part of trying to arrive at a comprehensive solution — to take a field trip, to come down to the border communities, to speak to the people who experiences life at them border each and every day,” he added.
Jeffries also addressed the increase of fentanyl deaths in the U.S., which some Republicans have sought to link to open borders. Democrats have noted that fentanyl is most often smuggled to the U.S. through ports of entry, not carried by those seeking asylum between designated entry points.
“The challenge of fentanyl is a serious one, it’s a real one, it impacts people all across the country: urban America, rural America, suburban America, small-town America, Appalachia and the heartland,” Jeffries said. “It’s important for us to come together as Democrats and Republicans to address it.”
“Speaking to the federal officials earlier today, one of the things that has become clear, again, is the importance of Congress further investing in providing our Border Patrol officials, our customs 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 added.
The New York Democrat said individuals he spoke with in Texas had “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.”
Cuellar said he and Jeffries on Saturday will attend the Abrazo Ceremony, a tradition that is part of the celebration honoring George Washington’s birthday. During the ceremony, four children — two who portray Washington and his wife, Martha Washington, and two who represent the people of Mexico — exchange hugs, according to the Texas Military Department.