Ariana Figueroa

WASHINGTON (States Newsroom) — U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a handful of Republican freshman lawmakers traveled to the U.S. – Mexico border Thursday, where they continued to blame the Biden administration for the fentanyl drug crisis.

Leading up to the visit, the White House called it a “publicity stunt.”

McCarthy said that there needs to be more funding and support for border security to prevent fentanyl from being smuggled into the United States, and that Democrats and the White House need to work with Republicans to address the issue.

McCarthy traveled to Tucson, Arizona, with freshman Republican Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon, Juan Ciscomani of Arizona, Jen Kiggans of Virginia and Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin.

The Republican first-termers said they ran for Congress on the issue of border security and because their communities are dealing with the fentanyl crisis.

“This fentanyl crisis is directly impacting and literally killing that American dream for hundreds of thousands of Americans in this country,” Ciscomani said.

During President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address to Congress, he called for bipartisan action on fentanyl such as expanded access to opioid-related addiction treatment and increased efforts to curb fentanyl trafficking at the Southern border and via commercial delivery packages.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs held a Wednesday hearing about the fentanyl crisis where several Biden administration officials detailed that funding for better screening technology at ports of entry at the Southern border is needed to catch vehicles trafficking the drug.

Administration pushback

White House officials strongly criticized the visit in advance.

“House Republicans should spend less time on partisan publicity stunts and more time working on solutions,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement. “Solutions are what President Biden is focused on, and his plan is working. House Republicans would be wise to join him to work together to strengthen our immigration system and fund border security.”

McCarthy blamed the Biden administration for a record high number of unauthorized border crossings, and said Republicans will bring U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in for questioning on security at the border. GOP lawmakers have introduced a resolution to impeach Mayorkas for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Sams argued that unauthorized border crossings “are down to their lowest levels in years.” Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for this.

Unauthorized border crossings sharply dropped from December 2022 to January of this year, according to CBP data. It’s a 40% drop from nearly 252,000 migrants who were stopped at the border to about 156,000 migrants stopped at the border. The decline also follows several enforcement policies the Biden administration announced for four countries to allow them to enter the U.S. legally if they had a sponsor in the U.S.

The Biden administration has also kept in place and expanded the use of Title 42, a health policy put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic that allows the U.S. to expel any non-citizens during a health crisis. The U.S. Supreme Court planned to hear arguments on the policy in early March, but removed the case from its calendar on Thursday.

The Biden administration plans to end the COVID-19 public health emergency, which serves as the legal basis of the policy, on May 11.

In November, a federal judge blocked the government from continuing to use Title 42, calling the policy “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

Border tour

The GOP lawmakers were briefed at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Tucson sector headquarters, went on an aerial tour of the border and visited a local ranch.

So far, Republicans have held House Judiciary and House Oversight and Accountability committee hearings on immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border and plan to hold more this Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee GOP will hold a hearing on the border in Yuma, Arizona, on Feb. 23.

Democrats on that committee called the hearing next week another stunt.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler and Immigration Integrity Security, and Enforcement Subcommittee ranking member Pramila Jayapal said in a statement that Democrats on the committee would take their own trip to the Southern border sometime next month to be briefed by government officials and community members.

“Instead of focusing on real solutions to a complicated problem, Judiciary Republicans will once again not hear from any federal government witnesses at their hearing, further cementing this hearing as a brazen act of political grandstanding,” they said in a joint statement. “As a result, Democrats, who have been to the border regularly the last few years, will not attend next week’s performative hearing.”