McCarthy Visits Southern Border, With Democrats Close Behind

  • Border trips gain popularity as political battle sharpens
  • House Democrats plan separate tours in Texas, Arizona

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other members of Congress are flocking to the US-Mexico border this week, as Republicans wield immigration politics against the Biden administration and Democrats rush to soften the blow.

McCarthy (R-Calif.), joined by freshman GOP lawmakers during his first border trip as speaker, toured US Customs and Border Protection operations in Cochise County, Ariz., on Thursday.

“This has all got to change, that’s our commitment, and that’s what we’ll make happen,” McCarthy said during a press conference, referencing drug trafficking and border-crossers who evade authorities.

Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva, whose district includes much of the Arizona-Mexico border, was also in the region Thursday to tout investments in CBP facilities, and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) announced his own plans to tour border facilities with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in Laredo, Texas, on Friday.

The competing messaging underscores how lawmakers have locked in border security as a key political battleground in the lead-up to the 2024 elections. Congressional delegations and committees have taken or announced at least a half-dozen border trips so far this year.

John Moore/Getty Images
Immigrants in keep warm by a fire at dawn after spending a night in El Paso alongside the Texas-Mexico border fence on Dec. 22, 2022.

McCarthy to Lead Republican Delegation to Southern US Border

Republicans leaned heavily on border issues during the last election cycle and are poised to continue that approach, with the added advantage of controlling the House. They’re also targeting Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for potential impeachment.

Democrats, often on defense in border debates, are embracing a more proactive approach by highlighting facility upgrades, touting recent decreases in migrant encounters, and blasting GOP trips as political theater.

“Enough of the political hype, enough of the theater, enough of the demonizing and slandering of a whole region of our country for the express purpose of a 2024 election,” Grijalva said in a phone interview Thursday after visiting the Douglas, Ariz., port of entry. Democrats’ role, he said, is to “promote solutions,” including investments in security upgrades at the border.

The White House also criticized Republicans’ recent border trips. Spokesman Ian Sams in a statement characterized the outings as publicity stunts and called on GOP lawmakers to support funding increases for border agencies and call off state attorneys general who are trying to block recent border policies in court.

Republican Reps. Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (Ore.), Jen Kiggans (Va.), and Derrick Van Orden (Wis.) joined McCarthy on Thursday’s trip.

Border Policies

The Biden administration has struggled to manage record migrant encounters the past two years amid an increase in regional migration and a mix of policies that blend deterrence strategies and humanitarian protections.

The Department of Homeland Security highlighted a decrease in encounters in January, crediting a new program that expands enforcement against Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans at the border while offering new legal pathways to the US for some.

US Border Encounters Drop Sharply Under New Immigration Policies

Republicans increasingly blame President Joe Biden’s border policies for rising fentanyl-related deaths in the US. Two Energy and Commerce subcommittees held a field hearing on the subject near the border city of McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday, and recent Judiciary and Oversight hearings also zeroed in on the deadly substance.

“Today more than 300 Americans will be poisoned and die from fentanyl,” McCarthy said on Thursday. “Tomorrow there will be 300 more. That’s the equivalent of an airline crashing,” he said, pledging that the new House majority would work to address the issue.

CBP officials make the vast majority of fentanyl trafficking busts at legal ports of entry, where it’s often smuggled by US citizens. The Border Patrol, which works between those ports and deals more with unauthorized migrant crossings, has also seized fentanyl and other hard drugs but in much smaller volumes.

More Hearings Planned

Immigrants’ rights advocates have criticized Republicans for using rhetoric that can stoke anti-immigrant sentiments.

“It’s all political theater and dangerous rhetoric that advances lies, mainstreams white nationalist conspiracies and moves us farther from real solutions we need,” Douglas Rivlin, spokesman for the immigrant-rights group America’s Voice, said in a statement Wednesday.

Lawmakers have more border trips planned in coming weeks. The House Judiciary Committee heads to Arizona for a field hearing next week, though Democrats have said they won’t attend, citing a lack of consultation. The House Homeland Security Committee is planning one in March.

“We will have hearings on the border,” McCarthy said Thursday. “It’s the responsibility of all members to attend.”

House Republicans stumbled last month in their first attempt to pass a border security bill. Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said he’s working with other panels on legislation that can get majority support.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at; Anna Yukhananov at

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