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McAllen, Texas – A congressional trip to southern Texas Friday led to committee members trading partisan broadsides over immigration, hearing decorum and whether members are taking various problems near the southern border seriously.
The House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth was in McAllen, Texas, for a hearing on living conditions and infrastructure for residents of the area. It was led by Chairman Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, in whose district the hearing took place.
During the trip, members visited poor “colonia” settlements near the border, which often lack running water and sewage, and sat down to hear from residents of the neighborhoods.
Separate from the official part of the committee trip, Republicans visited the border itself to witnessed what they said is a major crisis that is Democrats’ fault.
“It is lawlessness and the chaos is burning out of control,” Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, said after a tour of the Rio Grande with Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisc., and Reps. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Kat Cammack, R-Fla., also participated in the tour.
Officers showed the members the heavy Texas state and federal law enforcement presence along the river, as well as a section of privately constructed border wall between the river and farmers’ fields on the U.S. side.
The boat also stopped in several locations to tour landing spots for migrants who come across the Rio Grande in rafts. The brush along the riverbank in those spots was heavily trodden down, signaling large amounts of traffic had passed through. Deflated rafts, empty water bottles, personal items and even makeshift rest shelters were also visible on the banks.
“We have Democrat members of Congress who were with us four hours ago who are not with us right now,” Donalds said. “That should tell the American people everything. And so people are going to have choices this November. This is much more than politics. This is national security.”
“We’re here at the epicenter of the worst national security crisis and the most immediate threat to the American people,” Arrington said. “So whether they are on this tour with us or they would feel more comfortable being on a tour by themselves or doing something related to the issue that’s affecting the security and safety of the American people more than any single thing. Where is that tour? Where are those events?”
Arrington added: “Where are the meetings with Homeland Security personnel, ICE agents, DPS troopers? I don’t think that’s happening and I think it’s a missed opportunity.”
There were fireworks in the field hearing as well. Republicans attacked President Biden and Democrats over border security and the cost of unprecedented border crossings to Texas and the U.S. more broadly.
Cammack asked the Democrats’ witnesses at the hearing if they would say yes or no if there is a crisis at the border — they largely declined to answer the question directly. Arrington also asked for a raise if witnesses believed the cartels are in operational control of the border.
Democrats, meanwhile, kept their questions focused narrowly on the stated purpose of the hearing, which was improving infrastructure quality and helping very poor residents of southern Texas. They did express some annoyance about Republicans’ focus on the border.
But after the hearing, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, lit into Republicans for allegedly maligning his community during the hearing. He said that despite Republicans’ implications of a border crisis, McAllen and the surrounding areas are not dangerous as they say.
“I was appalled that my Republican colleagues used this unique opportunity to paint South Texas as a lawless and unsafe community,” Gonzalez said in a tweeted statement. “With all their statistics, they failed to mention that the Rio Grande Valley is home to some of the safest communities in the entire country.”
“It is ignorant and highly disrespectful of my Republican colleagues to continue to use the Rio Grande Valley as a political backdrop and use my constituents as political pawns,” he continued. “It is time my Republican colleagues take some time to sit down and learn a thing or two about what South Texans are all about.”
The select committee will hold another hearing this week on tax policy.