Republicans, Democrats offer differing visions during respective Arizona border visits

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., visited the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. McCarthy had made securing the border a key issue during the midterm elections. (Photo by James Powel/Cronkite News)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., led House Republicans to tour the U.S.-Mexico border between Nogales and Douglas on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. The other delegates included Reps. Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson; Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore.; Jen Kiggans, R-Va.; and Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis. (Photo by James Powel/Cronkite News)

DOUGLAS – In his first visit to the southern border since taking on his new leadership role, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Thursday led a delegation of Republican representatives on a tour and demanded more security.

“Every town is a border town,” McCarthy said, standing in front of the border fence.

McCarthy made border security a key issue during the midterm elections, and he framed Thursday’s trip as an assessment of the multiple crises at the border. McCarthy said people don’t feel safe in their own country and described the area as one where “a Mexican cartel is the biggest employer.”

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In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Joe Biden focused some of his remarks on securing American borders. The Arizona Republican delegation was especially angry over illegal immigration, with some renewing calls for a border wall.

Some critics chalked Thursday’s GOP visit up to just another photo op along the border.

“Border communities deserve action not photo opportunities,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a news release.

Other delegates who joined McCarthy on Thursday’s trip included Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore.; Jen Kiggans, R-Va.; and Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis.

The trip was organized by Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, who said the border security GOP lawmakers want is separate from immigration reform Democrats have desired.

“When you look at the border in Arizona, and you look at different aspects of what’s happening … here you have a lot more of the overall criminal activity,” Ciscomani said.

When McCarthy asked where he could go to see activity on the border, “This is the area that made sense,” Ciscomani said.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, speaks to the media during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border Feb. 16, 2023. Ciscomani said the trip was focused on the multiple crises at the border. (Photo by James Powel/Cronkite News)

Earlier this month, Ciscomani was chosen to deliver the GOP’s Spanish-language rebuttal to Biden’s State of the Union address.

Ciscomani, whose family emigrated from Mexico when he was a child and settled in Tucson, highlighted fentanyl overdoses in his rebuttal. He called it a crisis that’s “only gotten worse” and pointed out Arizona’s high death rate from fentanyl overdoses among young people.

On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials gave the group a tour of a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border between Nogales and Douglas.

Tour stops were centered around the ranch of John Ladd, a rancher who has been critical of the Biden administration.

The delegation was not the only congressional border visit on Thursday. About 100 miles east of the speaker’s tour, Grijalva visited the border in Douglas.

Grijalva’s visit focused on the rollout of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which includes $3.4 billion to fund 26 major construction and modernization projects at land ports of entry, according to a news release.

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Grijalva toured the Raúl Hector Castro Land Port of Entry in Douglas and met with Douglas Mayor Donald Huish.

Grijalva said McCarthy’s visit put political theater over solutions for borderland communities.

“If there are members – especially the four freshmen – who are interested in talking seriously, there is common ground to be had,” Grijalva said Thursday.

He criticized the speaker’s delegation as limiting the types of people whose experiences were being heard.

“What they are missing is the complexity, the diversity of the people that are here at the borderlands,” Grijalva said. “They have different solutions, and they have different perspectives.”

Grijalva said events like McCarthy’s mischaracterize the reality of the situation for borderland communities.

“It’s not the outlaw region that people like speaker McCarthy portray it as,” Grijalva said.

This story contains reporting from Cronkite News reporter Alexis Waiss.

(Video by Alexia Stanbridge/Cronkite News)
James Powel jaymz POW-uhl
News Reporter, Phoenix

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, James Powel became interested in journalism at a young age. After working as a stringer for the Daily News, his love affair was confirmed. Powel has been the sports editor for The Corsair newspaper in Santa Monica, California, lead producer for SMCTV, sideline and general reporter for El Segundo Media and a general reporter for Hawthorne Community Television.

Alexia Stanbridge uh-LEK-see-uh STAN-bridge (she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Alexia Stanbridge expects to graduate in May 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Stanbridge, who has interned with and worked for Arizona Horizon, Break It Down and Black in Arizona on Arizona PBS, is working in the Phoenix news bureau.

Alexis Waiss uh-LEK-sis wice (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Alexis Waiss expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in social welfare. Waiss has reported for The State Press and PolitiFact at the Poynter Institute.