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Harris Criticized For Not Visiting The Southern Border Sooner

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump and Texas officials are preparing to tour the U.S. Mexico border this week. Trump's visit comes just days after Vice President Kamala Harris made her first official visit this past weekend. She stopped at several sites in El Paso, Texas, including a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: This issue cannot be reduced to a political issue. We're talking about children. We're talking about families. We're talking about suffering. And our approach has to be thoughtful and effective.

MARTIN: Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales represents a border district that includes parts of El Paso County. He was one of the lawmakers urging the vice president to visit the border. He joins us now on Skype. Thanks so much for being with us.

TONY GONZALES: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: There was all this pressure on the vice president to visit the border. Republicans were making a lot of hay over the fact that she hadn't been there. So now that's done. She's gone. Presumably the conversation can move to real substance. What, in your view, needs to happen right now at the border?

GONZALES: She needs to visit the border again. It's a very complex issue. And the only way you understand it is if you really dive into it. You know, I'm also encouraged that the HHS director is visiting El Paso today. I think it starts to highlight that, hopefully, the administration is moving from a go-it-alone approach to starting to listen to others that are on the ground seeing it every day. But it is a very complex issue. Immigration and border security is not a new topic for any president. Every president has had to deal with this issue.

MARTIN: What makes you say the administration is taking a so-called go-it-alone approach?

GONZALES: Yeah. For months, many lawmakers have asked - have urged the administration to just become more involved. And it's not just Republicans. It's Republicans. It's Democrats, it's people that didn't vote. If you live, if you work along the border, you see this crisis every day, from high-speed chases to, you know, property being damaged to just the sheer number of migrants that have come through, which would other be a very sleepy town. It's created this chaotic environment, turned your world upside down. And I think for too long, folks in Washington have have just turned a blind eye to it, just kind of wish wish it go away. But it hasn't gone away.

MARTIN: As you know, Congressman, President Biden inherited this problem from President Trump, who dismantled much of the infrastructure that had - was pre-existing to deal with immigration, including disbanding relocation centers for asylum seekers. I mean, how much cleanup are you and other Republicans having to do with with the legacy of the Trump administration right now?

GONZALES: You know, I think the Biden administration had a very aggressive approach to immigration, which is fine. However, you know, it's a complex issue. And you can't just turn off some things and expect nothing to happen. You know, back in February, they made some very aggressive changes to some policy decisions. And like I said, it's fine. Every administration has its way of leading. However, there were some repercussions to that. And what I would like to see is I would like to see this administration stop with some of the dismantling of, hey, everything that the previous administration did - let's do the opposite - and have a more nuanced approach by talking to those on the ground. My district is 40% of the southern border. I talk to mayors and judges and and everyday people daily. I literally am on the border every single week. I would just like to have a much more engaged conversation in how we move forward together.

MARTIN: So let's talk about how you are working to make that happen. You are proposing a bill to try to address this issue. What needs to change urgently that you're pushing?

GONZALES: Yeah, on the ground, people are almost tired of of whose fault it is. And they're more inclined to go, hey, Tony, just fix it, right? So, you know, I'm working with Henry Cuellar, a Democrat to the south of my district, Senator Cornyn, Republican from Texas, and Senator Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona. So bipartisan, bicameral piece of legislation. It's called the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. And it does three things in particular. One, right now over about 40% of Border Patrol agents are not in the field protecting us from various different things. They're in these processing centers. They're having to process migrants. So this takes them out of the processing center and puts them back into the field. The second thing it does is it adds 150 judges to the equation. So...

MARTIN: Immigration judges. And just in seconds remaining, the last tenet?

GONZALES: The last tenet is it tracks these of these unaccompanied children. So the unaccompanied children - there's over 80,000 of them. Sadly, once they leave HHS, nobody tracks them. Regardless of their legal status, we need to make sure that these children are safe and protected.

MARTIN: We appreciate you taking the time. Texas Congressman Tony Gonzales. He represents the Texas 23rd District running along the U.S.-Mexico border. We'll have you back on again. Thank you.

GONZALES: Great. Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.