Senator Lindsey Graham has hit out – telling a reporter to “Do your job” – after being asked what Republicans would to do solve America’s decades-long immigration problem, rather than simply blaming President Joe Biden and the Democrats.
The South Carolina politician was among 18 Republican led by Ted Cruz, who joined members of the Texas State Highway Patrol to tour stretches of the Rio Grande river, that separates the US for Mexico.
In recent weeks the border in the Rio Grande Valley has seen a sharp increase in the number of migrants entering the US, many of them admittedly encouraged by Mr Biden’s decision to allow vulnerable asylum-seekers to wait in the US while their cases are heard, rather than in Mexico, as had been the policy under Donald Trump.
Rights activists said the situation in Mexico for asylum-seekers from places such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, is often dangerous, especially for youngsters
Yet the move, which Mr Biden has defended as being more humane than that of his predecessor, has created a major challenge for the president, as images emerge of thousands of unaccompanied minors packed into overcrowded emergency shelters.
While Mr Biden is scrambling to put extra resources where they are needed, he has been attacked for having an “open border” by people such as Mr Cruz, and other Republicans.
“All of us today witnessed the Biden cages,” Mr Cruz told reporters after disembarking from one of the patrol vessels, all of them equipped with machine guns.
“What is occurring here on the border is heartbreaking, and it is a tragedy.”
The Independent asked Mr Cruz, what – given Republicans had for decades stood in the way of comprehensive immigration reform, that people still wanted to come here and that the US claimed to be proud of its migrant history – was the long-term solution.
Mr Cruz said he did not accept the premise of the question, but added: “We are a nation of immigrants – that is absolutely right. My father came to America from Cuba in 1959. We’re a nation built by people coming here seeking freedom, and there's no nation on earth that is more generous more welcoming to immigrants.”
He added: “But there's a right way to come, the right way to come is legally, following the rules …The wrong way to come is putting children in the custody of human traffickers.”
At that point, Mr Graham took to the microphone, his voice with just a little edge to it, and said the media should be asking border patrol agents for their opinion on the issue.
“Instead of asking a Republican or a Democrat, why don't you ask the people in charge of policing the border, what the problem is, rather than making a political statement and a question. Why don't you walk right over there, ask the guy 'What the hell happened’,” he said.
At that point he took a graph from his pocket which he said showed a spike in migrant arrivals last June. He said Mr Trump had responded by telling Mexico the US was going to put tariffs on all its products unless it more forcibly enforced the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy.
“What happened? It went down to a 45 year low, because nobody's going to pay $20,000 to come to Mexico and wait for four years,” he said.
“So why don't you do your job as reporter, and ask the professionals, what the hell has happened in the last couple of months and they will tell you, they told the Biden administration if you do what you're planning, we're going to lose control of the border. They were right.”
He also claimed he had voted for every immigration bill that came to the Senate, but said he could not sit down with Democrat Dick Durbin, who is leading his party’s efforts on this, until you “fix this problem”.
Mr Graham has had something of a shifting position on immigration reform over the years. He was one of a handful of Republican senators who initially signed on to an effort under Barack Obama in 2013, but then dropped out after disagreements with Democrat Harry Reid, who lead the party in the Senate, which Democrats controlled at that point.
Earlier this year, Mr Graham co-sponsored an immigration bill in the Senate with Mr Durbin. Yet just 43 days later, he told Politico he would not vote for it.
“God, no. I’m not in support of legalising one person until you’re in control of the border.”
The last major piece of legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed Ronald Reagan. It was designed to tighten security, and provide legal status to three million undocumented people in the country.
Various other presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama, all tried to pass legislation, but could not get it through Congress.
In 2007, Mr Bush spoke of his disappointment on this issue.
“Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people and Congress's failure to act on it is a disappointment,” he said. “The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws.”
Speaking at the Naval War College, at Newport, Rhode Island, he added: “Congress really needs to prove to the American people that it can come together on hard issues.”
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