House Dems Face Pressure on Border Security From Constituents

Questions over immigration, border security dog Democrats at district town halls

Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats | Getty

The government shutdown may be over, but House Democrats are still facing pressure by constituents to address border security.

At town halls over the weekend, voters had their first opportunity to weigh in on the dispute that shuttered the federal government for more than a month. Although the impasse reached a short-term resolution on Friday it was still front and center in voters' minds.

"I don't understand how anybody can think that you can have a compromise and have [a] discussion when Nancy Pelosi stands up there and says, ‘I'll give him $1 for whatever the wall is,'" George Rogero told Democratic congressman Sean Patrick Maloney during a town hall in New York. "So when you talk about compromise, unfortunately, a lot of times a compromise means we get what we want and you don’t get anything."

In response, Maloney said he was open to "real" border security, including physical barriers where necessary, but would oppose a "sea-to-shining-sea" wall across the entirety of the border.

Maloney's colleagues in the House Democratic majority faced similar questions over the weekend. The issue of border security was particularly salient at town halls hosted by freshman Democrats, many of whom represent districts Trump carried on his way to the White House in 2016.

Freshman representative Kendra Horn (Okla.) said she was committed to working "across the aisle" to secure the border and avert another government shutdown when asked about the topic during a town hall on Saturday.

"My standpoint about border security is that we need to have a smart, comprehensive slate of solutions. What I mean by that is, we need to look at the technology and the right combination of things that's going to make us both safe and secure."

The congresswoman, who last week said everything needed "to be on the table" when it came to border security, reiterated that she was open to "some form" of barrier on America's southern border.

"In some places, that may include some form of a physical barrier. In many places, we need technology. There are sensors, there are drones, there are things we can do that will help to notify our Border Patrol agents on a more rapid basis," Horn said.

Likewise, Democratic congressman Anthony Brindisi, a freshman from New York, told constituents he was "looking forward to working with Democrats and Republicans" to forge a comprehensive deal to "strengthen our borders" in the next few weeks.

"I could support funding for physical barriers where the experts tell us they make sense … [also] investments in technology at the border, you have to have more border agents and if we can throw in there some other immigration reforms that have been hampering us for the last couple years we should try and get that done too," Brindisi said.

Other House Democrats took a more nuanced approach when the topic came up for discussion.

"We've got to beef up border security, there's no question about that," said representative Dave Loebsack at a town hall in Newton, Iowa. "I’ve said that all along. We've got to [focus] more resources into that."

Loebsack added that he would favor a deal that not only included broader border security measures but a permanent solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as well.

"We also have to make sure we have immigration reform. … We've got a lot of young folks who were brought here through no fault of their own by their parents. I think they should be provided a path to citizenship. … We've got to make sure that we provide a future for them in this country."

Not every member of Congress, however, appeared willing to take their constituent's considerations into account.

On Saturday, border security was front and center during a town hall hosted by freshman representative Veronica Escobar in El Paso, Texas. The issue has local implications for Escobar given that her district borders Juarez, Mexico—a city long rocked by cartel-related violence.

"You cannot tell me that the walls that they have built have not prevented some migration from coming over," Anthony Gonzalez, one of Escobar's constituents, told a TV station covering the event.

Gonzalez was not alone in his sentiment as a number of other constituents questioned why border security had become such a point of contention between Congress and the president.

"This is our community, these are our children," one individual said. "Where do we start protecting our people?"

Escobar, who has openly expressed support for impeaching Trump and referred to the government shutdown as a "hostage situation," didn't address those concerns head-on. Instead, the congresswoman spoke broadly about the need to increase staffing and resources for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"We believe regardless of the party that law enforcement needs the tools necessary to do their job, the dispute and the disagreement are over which tools work best, for Mr. Trump it's a wall," Escobar said.

The freshman Democrat ended her first town hall on a conciliatory note.

"I'm hoping that we all heard each other and at the very least you know I hope the folks who don't agree with my perspective walk away knowing that I will listen."

Despite the promise, Escobar left the event to join a protest march against the president's border wall organized by progressive activists.