Few topics are as persistently at the forefront of politics as unlawful migration and the situation at the U.S.’s southern border. The matter is especially pertinent for elected officials who represent border communities.
Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales has represented Texas’ 23rd Congressional District since winning the 2020 general election. The district encompasses the area on the border between San Antonio and El Paso.
This November, Gonzales, a Navy veteran, is facing a challenge from Democrat John Lira, a Marine Corps veteran, in the general election, and convincing voters that they are the better choice to manage the border is a top priority for both campaigns.
Last month, Rep. Gonzales appeared on Fox News and said the border was “the furthest thing from secure,” as reported by The Dallas Express. The congressman suggested repatriation flights to send unlawful migrants back to their country of origin as a solution.
“I represent 42% of the southern border,” Gonzales said. “There’s certainly no one in my district who thinks it’s secure.”
Lira told The Dallas Express that Rep. Gonzales saying the borders are not secure was “factually wrong and an insult to those hard-working men and women… of border patrol, law enforcement, and National agents working tirelessly to make our borders secure.”
Rep. Gonzales doubled down on asserting that the border is not secure in a statement to The Dallas Express.
“I am constantly on the ground meeting with Border Patrol, law enforcement, local officials, farmers, and ranchers, both Democrats and Republicans, who all share with me the same concern: our border is not secure,” said Gonzales.
“Record levels of drug and human smuggling have had devastating consequences on small border communities,” Gonzales continued. “High-speed car chases, property damages, and drug runs happen nearly every day. Anyone who has stepped foot in TX-23 would know that.”
Lira acknowledged that many people are to blame for the current situation at the border, which he described as a humanitarian crisis. He said all presidents dating back to George Bush had mismanaged the border, and the federal government should take responsibility for keeping the border secure.
“The U.S. Congress must step up and pass laws to untangle the mess at the border,” said Lira.
“Border patrol has the ultimate jurisdiction, and they are overwhelmed,” Lira continued. “They are overwhelmed because Republicans refuse to work bipartisanly to fix asylum, immigration, and border security policies.”
Rep. Gonzales acknowledged that bipartisanship is needed to address the border, but “right now, the priority should be to bring law and order back to our border communities.”
Gonzales cited legislation he has introduced to increase funding for Operation Stonegarden, a federal grant program that enables local law enforcement to work with Border Patrol to enforce immigration laws and separate legislation to change the overtime system for Border Patrol agents.
Gonzales also touted a bill to secure more than $20 million for Border Patrol mental health clinicians when agent suicide rates are at a record high. The congressman added that he has fought for funding to hire more agents and improve the radio communications systems for law enforcement along the border.
Lira said Rep. Gonzales had not done enough to improve the situation at the border and has even made border communities worse with his rhetoric.
“Gonzales has labeled our border community as terrorist safe havens,” Lira continued. “This type of rhetoric has a horrible impact on the community; tourists no longer come and shop, [..] Gonzales wants to add more troops to Operation Lone Star to militarize our border.”
“I was part of an actual invasion of another county; I had jet and attack helicopters above me and tanks behind me; what we are witnessing at our southern border is a humanitarian crisis, it is not an invasion, it is a humanitarian crisis that our current laws are not prepared for,” Lira added.
Lira said his solution would include updating asylum laws to “cut bureaucracy and streamline asylum hearings” and investing “in more domestic and in-person migrant processing centers.”
The Democratic nominee also proposes updating the visa legal immigration process, guest workers visa programs, and creating a pathway to citizenship for those granted conditional and renewable citizenship under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other “people who have been productive members of society.”
Growing a partnership with Mexico is also essential to Lira’s strategy to address the border.
“Invest in our bi-national ports of entry to allow for a larger flow of commerce between Mexico and the U.S.,” said Lira. “Improve our strategy for anti weapons, narcotics, and human trafficking, work with Mexican partners to ensure illicit organizations cannot operate freely from Mexico to the U.S, [and] invest in local law enforcement’s capabilities to deter and detect smuggling operations.”
Rep. Gonzales does not believe Lira’s proposed ideas would sufficiently address the border.
“Border Patrol has apprehended a record number of people on the terrorist watchlist this year- more than double the last five years combined,” said Gonzales. “Encounters of migrants with criminal records and gang members are also on the rise; that’s just the people we are catching.
“This year alone, Border Patrol estimates that more than half a million individuals have slipped into our country undetected,” Rep. Gonzales continued.
“The solution to end this chaos is not to promise more leniency on asylum — that’s what started this crisis in the first place when President Biden started rolling back immigration enforcement policies on day one in the White House,” said Rep. Gonzales.
Since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021, the multi-agency mission has resulted in more than 296,000 unlawful migrant apprehensions and more than 18,700 criminal arrests, with more than 16,000 felony charges reported, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection released its monthly report for July 2022 last week. The report found the number of unique individuals encountered along the southern border in July was 162,792, a 1% increase from the prior month.