Top lawmakers are gathering at the White House again Friday to try to find a way to end the partial government shutdown. This comes one day after Democrats, who now have a majority in the House of Representatives, passed a package to reopen parts of the government until September, and passed a measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. The effort also allowed more time for negotiations on border security.
While the measures likely won’t pass in the Republican-led Senate, seven Republicans in the House sided with Democrats to pass the bills; Texas Rep. Will Hurd was one of them. His 23rd Congressional District stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, encompassing much of the state’s border with Mexico.
Hurd says he voted with Democrats because he feels it’s important to keep agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, open.
“Many folks on TSA, they were missing a day’s worth of pay from their paycheck,” he says. “But they continued to work, make sure we were safe, make sure we got through long lines in airports.”
Though he broke with Republicans on government funding bills, Hurd says Democrats still need to go further in addressing border security.
“I think both sides need to put down the swords, and actually talk through solutions,” Hurd says. “There’s a lack of trust between both sides, which is preventing us coming to a final solution.”
DACA and TPS, or temporary protected status, are issues on which Hurd says Democrats and Republicans could reach common ground. And he says America needs to protect immigrants who are in the U.S. legally through TPS.
“There’s 50,000 people [with] TPS status in Houston alone, involved in construction, and guess what? We’re still rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey,” Hurd says.
Hurd says the USA Act, which he and California Democrat Pete Aguilar introduced in early 2018, is the only bipartisan bill that “solves border security and DACA.” He says the bill addresses root causes of unauthorized immigration.
“When it comes to DACA, 1.2 million young men and women who’ve only known the United States of America as their home … are already contributing to our economy. And, oh, by the way: at 3.8 percent unemployment in the United States of America, guess what we need? We need workers,” Hurd says.
Hurd says he understands why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up bills that the president says he would refuse to sign, including measures that would end the shutdown.
“But ultimately, Congress [is] a coequal branch of government, and it should operate that way,” he says. “And if we come to an agreement, and it’s something the president doesn’t like, he has the opportunity to veto that.”
Hurd also breaks with the president and others in his party when it comes to the definition and composition of a border wall. Hurd favors what he calls a “smart wall,” based more on technological solutions than on concrete barriers, though he points out that there’s already a solid barrier along 600 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We need to be thinking about all 2,000 miles of border at the same time,” Hurd says. “It’s myopic to think that every inch or every mile of the border is the same.”
But border security is important, he says. Both illegal drugs and unauthorized immigrants continue to cross the into the U.S., and the Border Patrol isn’t always able to respond to incidents right away.
Hurd says there’s another problem with building a wall on some parts of the border: “In the great state of Texas, we care about a little thing called private-property rights,” Hurd says. “Just in my district alone, some of the plans DHS has would cede $1.1 million of arable land … to Mexico. That’s crazy.”
Hurd says he believes the final deal on border security will be a combination of a financial compromise that includes some of the president’s demands and some of what Democrats have offered, along with a solution to DACA and some movement on TPS.
Hurd says he hopes the solution also focuses on ports of entry where he says the majority of border-crossing activity is occurring.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.