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Texas Congressman Tony Gonzales speaks about the border and immigration


We'll start this hour looking at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, where in recent weeks, we've seen harrowing scenes of thousands of migrants gathered in squalid conditions to seek asylum. That wave of asylum-seekers has subsided, but others are expected. And it's an issue that has perplexed one administration after the next. Joining us now to discuss is Tony Gonzales, a Republican member of the Texas Congress. His district includes Del Rio. Thank you for joining us, Congressman.

TONY GONZALES: No, thank you for having me. Look forward to today.

FADEL: So let's start with the situation in Del Rio and something you said in the midst of that urgent time. There was a moment where there were pictures of Border Patrol agents on horseback, whipping reins at Haitian migrants. And you said at that time two things that, to me, didn't necessarily reconcile. You said those agents were doing God's work, but you also said migrants should not be mistreated. Can you talk to me about what you meant and how those reconcile?

GONZALES: Yeah. So anybody who watched that segment on CNN will know that I said Border Patrol agents are doing God's work by protecting our border and keeping us safe. And I absolutely believe that, and they deserve every bit of credit. I also said in that segment that nobody should be mistreated. This is the United States of America. We are the beacon of hope. And what I saw two weeks ago in Del Rio - I was the first member there in Del Rio. What I saw at that time was the worst I have ever seen it. And sadly, things are only going to get worse.

FADEL: So let's talk about immigration reform. The Democrats are undertaking multiple attempts to pass immigration reform through by attaching it to a partisan spending bill. Why is that such a concern for Republicans?

GONZALES: A topic like immigration reform needs to be bipartisan in nature if it's going to last long term. Otherwise, you're just going to see it fail time and time again. I go back to it - you know, back in April, myself, Senator Cornyn, Republican from Texas, Senator Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, Congressman Henry Cuellar, Democrat from Texas, put together a Bipartisan Border Solutions Act that starts that conversation. It's one of many things that I believe need to be passed, but it has to happen in a bipartisan manner, and it has to start in Congress, not using or abusing the reconciliation process.

FADEL: Let's go back to the Democratic immigration reform proposals. They're very popular. About 70% favor pathway to citizenship for farm workers, for example. And yet they would get roughly zero Republican votes. Is this an obstacle to bipartisan reform?

GONZALES: When you have 1.5 million illegal immigrants come over, it is impossible to start the conversation at a pathway to citizenship. I mean, the conversation has to start with securing the border, and then it has to move towards, you know, other things that makes sense. One is increasing work visas. Look. We have shortages across our country, work shortages across industries. Folks that want to come over and live the American dream and work hard need to have an opportunity to do that.

FADEL: But the 1.5 million you mentioned - I mean, the majority of those are turned away. They don't actually cross the border.

GONZALES: The majority of them are being processed and released into the country and given court dates years down the line.

FADEL: That's not true. The majority are turned away.

GONZALES: I mean, just look in Del Rio. In Del Rio alone this year, over 250,000. migrants have crossed in Del Rio. The Secretary Mayorkas himself said a lot of the folks that were under the bridge, over 12,000 of them were released into the United States to be given a court date later.

FADEL: Be processed. Yes. But I'm talking about the larger number, the 1.5 million. The majority, the numbers show, are turned away. But we'll move on to - I want to talk about border security. Governor Greg Abbott is enforcing his own immigration rules. He's using state troopers, game wardens, National Guard to, as he says, stop border crossings. What's your reaction to the Abbott policy?

GONZALES: You know, what is happening in Del Rio is only going to continue to happen. And sadly, the - you know, the Texas governor and Texas in general - it essentially feels like they're on their own. And, you know, you see that at the local level, as well, with the mayors and the county judges and the sheriffs. And they're doing everything in their power to try to, you know, make their communities more safe. But the bottom line is this is a federal issue. These are federal policies that only when these federal policies change can things get better.

FADEL: Congressman Tony Gonzales, a Republican member of Congress. His district includes Del Rio. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

GONZALES: Thank you. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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