As the House of Representatives assesses its strategy to overhaul the nation's immigration system, a group of Republican congressmen are starting their August recess with a tour of the southern border.
Unlike a border tour last March for a bipartisan group of senators, the House's current three-day tour features only Republicans: House committee on Homeland Security chairman Mike McCaul of Texas, former House "Group of Eight" member Raul Labrador of Idaho, Trent Franks of Arizona, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Rick Crawford of Arkansas and Richard Hudson of North Carolina. The group is accompanied by Border Patrol Chief Michael Fischer.
The group of eight began their tour of the 1,969-mile-long border Sunday in San Diego, followed by a visit to Tucson, Ariz. today, with a trip to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas scheduled for Tuesday.
In a recent statement, McCaul said the trip was important "for Members to see the Southwest border terrain and security technology first-hand."
"As we have witnessed this year, increased enforcement in Arizona has pushed illegal border crossings into Texas," McCaul said. "We cannot continue the Administration's ad hoc approach of patching holes only to see illegal immigration shift instead of stop, and we can't continue to throw money at the problem without an idea of what is necessary to bridge gaps in security. This trip will demonstrate how much still needs to be accomplished, and what tools can help get us there."
McCaul also said the lawmakers will have the opportunity to speak with "experts on the ground including Border Patrol and Coast Guard, and local citizens about efforts to secure the border."
In California, the group received tours of the border and observed a demonstration on tunnel detection technology. The tour continued in Arizona today with demonstrations of unmanned aerial systems.
Speaking with WBT-Radio in North Carolina, Hudson said that Sunday's tour of San Diego, where there is a double-layer fence, illustrated the need for a "comprehensive strategy" because the fence has created a "maritime problem."
"One of our top priorities is we've got to get operational control of this border. The border is not secure," Hudson said. "One of the things I learned yesterday talking to our Customs and Border Patrol folks is we need a strategy, a comprehensive strategy for security of our entire border… [Now] we are just pushing the problem out to the sea."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has signaled that the House "will have a vote on a series of bills at some point," including measures to address border security and another not-yet-written bill to ensure that Congress not hold kids liable for illegal acts of their parents.
Cantor, as well as other House Republican leaders, insists that the GOP's strategy is "going to be a lot more deliberative and smart" than the comprehensive approach the Senate took to pass legislation earlier this summer.
"We know the system is broken. We want to fix it," Cantor said during an interview with Fox News Sunday. "We will be addressing the issue of immigration in the House, according to our terms, not the way the Senate did, because there's a lot of doubt being cast on whether the folks who voted for that know even what, in the end, was voted on because of the scramble to get the votes in the last piece of that legislative activity."
In late March, half of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the Senate participated in a tour along the border in Nogales, part of the Tucson sector. Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake hosted Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
The Senate voted June 27 to approve its version of immigration reform, which included a $46 billion "border surge" that doubles the size of the Border Patrol from its current force of 21,000 and mandates the completion of the 700-mile border fence authorized by Congress in 2006.