Georgia GOP reps say secure border, then they’ll work on immigration system

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, shakes hands with a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent while Agriculture Committee Chairman  Glenn Thompson looks on during a visit to the Texas border with Mexico. Photo courtesy of Rep. Scott, U.S. House of Representatives.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, shakes hands with a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent while Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson looks on during a visit to the Texas border with Mexico. Photo courtesy of Rep. Scott, U.S. House of Representatives.

WASHINGTON — Immediately upon taking back the majority in the U.S. House, Republicans turned their attention to the southern border. Multiple trips and field hearings have painted a picture of towns in Texas and other states overrun with migrants and safety nets and local governments stretched then.

Back from these visits, GOP members of Georgia’s delegation say their solution is not to pass new immigration laws but for President Joe Biden to enforce existing ones by securing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The president has the ability; he should be building a wall right now,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton. “He should be stopping this. When we have somebody who is caught illegally entering the United States of America, they should be turned back to their country of origin, period. It doesn’t matter if it’s China, if it’s Mexico, if it’s Chile, whether it’s the Middle East, or whether it’s Central America.”

The visits come as movement on legislation has stalled amid disagreement among Republican lawmakers. Moderates have expressed concern about some of the more hard-line proposals from conservatives, including one that would essentially close the border to all migrants.

Scott visited Texas earlier this month with fellow Republicans on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. The group met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and discussed the flow of migrants and illicit drugs such as fentanyl.

Scott said there is a time and place to discuss legal immigration and whether the rules in place, such as ones providing temporary visas to migrant farmworkers, need attention. But he said the most pressing need today is on stopping the flow.

He criticized Biden for winding down what is known as Title 42, emergency border restrictions that then-President Donald Trump implemented during the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 shutdowns ended and word spread that people seeking asylum would no longer be sent back into Mexico, the number of immigrants at the border surged. Economic and political instability in South and Central America, and as far away as Asia, have also contributed to the migration.

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene attended the Homeland Security Committee’s field hearing in McAllen, Texas. Officers shared horrific stories about finding corpses and abandoned children in remote areas, she said. Businesses are overwhelmed, she added, and ranchers are losing cattle and other animals because migrants are scaling fences and damaging them.

“We can build a wall in areas where it’s possible,” the Rome Republican said. “You can’t build a wall across the entire thing because of the terrain there is, but we can finish building the wall and maintaining the wall. Joe Biden stopped that completely, which was unacceptable. There’s also technology that we should be using, all kinds of technology.”

Democrats say Republicans are highlighting the border crisis to score political points instead of working to modernize the immigration system in hopes of creating longer-term solutions, and they have mostly boycotted these GOP-led events. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, instead has traveled to Texas separately with fellow Democrats in recent weeks, first to El Paso and more recently to Brownsville.

“We didn’t do any photo ops like Republicans do, wearing bulletproof vests as if their lives were in danger,” Johnson said. “We went down to see real operations on the border, and what struck me is that there’s such a big need for Congress to do comprehensive immigration.”

Johnson said that many of the people crossing the border are seeking asylum, and he said strengthening the immigration system could also address labor shortages in many industries across the country. But he said Republicans won’t engage.

“They have absolutely no solutions other than build a wall,” he said. “And we know that that does not work. And it doesn’t work to keep people out, nor does it work for our economy, nor does it work for our security. Unfortunately, that’s the only agenda my friends on the Republican side of the aisle have.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, the GOP chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has promised to bring an unspecified slate of immigration bills up for a vote in the coming weeks, but even within the party, members are split on how to proceed.

Earlier this year, legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to turn migrants away at the border, including those seeking asylum, was listed as one of the top priorities under new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and a pledge was made that it would move quickly to the floor. That legislation has 68 GOP co-sponsors, including Georgia U.S. Reps. Greene, Buddy Carter and Rich McCormick.

However, it has stalled amid criticism from some Republicans such as Texas U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district stretches across more than 800 miles of the border.

“Bring unchristian anti-immigrant bills to the floor and I am a NO on the debt ceiling,” Gonzales wrote on Twitter, threatening to vote with Democrats on a separate measure to raise the limit on national debt.