MCALLEN, Texas (FOX 26) — Last week, freshman Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) made his first visit to the Texas-Mexico border as a legislator. He said he planned the trip to see what works and what doesn't when it comes to barriers. He also addressed the rhetoric surrounding the border wall as another potential government shutdown looms.
Crenshaw was in the Rio Grande Valley sector, the busiest portion of the southwest border for illegal crossing apprehensions. He arrived for his first meeting with agents at the Brownsville border patrol station at noon on Thursday. He was back at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport by 2:45 p.m. Friday.
The first stop of the trip was to see a little more than a mile stretch of border in Brownsville with border patrol agents.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since 55 miles of fencing were installed, the eastern corridor of the Rio Grande sector accounts for six percent of border crossings.
"It's a great mix of barriers where that makes sense and other technological innovations where that makes sense," Crenshaw told FOX 26 News. The fencing seen was everything from a chain link fence around a college baseball field to an18-foot-tall fencing made of metal rods with barbed wire about halfway up.
That night, agents took Crenshaw and fellow Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) to the western corridor near McAllen.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, during the last fiscal year, 40 percent of all apprehensions on the southwest border happened in the Rio Grande Valley sector.
Deputy Chief Raúl Ortiz said the western portion of this sector makes up 94 percent of their traffic.
"We do have a little bit of infrastructure but we have an awful lot of gaps," Ortiz explained.
He also said, on average, they stop 650 people in this sector each night. Of those, he adds, around 75 percent are families and unaccompanied minors.
Crenshaw and Roy got a glimpse of that. Their ride-along with border patrol was less than an hour and during that time about a 100 migrants were taken into custody. Many were families from Central America.
Freddy Gutierrez of Honduras said he was relieved to finally be in the U.S. and see border agents. Gutierrez also said he trekked almost a month with his 7-year-old daughter so she could live a better life away from gang violence in their home country. He, like the other migrants the Congressmen saw that night, turned themselves into border patrol to seek asylum.
Crenshaw says they're not a threat and this was what he expected.
"They’re economic migrants," said Crenshaw. "I'm sure they’re good people, but we have a system in place."
However, in order to seek asylum, migrants have to be in the U.S. or at a port of entry. President Donald Trump's administration has limited the intake of asylum seekers at ports of entry. Some migrants are waiting several weeks in Mexico before being allowed to meet with an asylum officer.
Crenshaw defended the President's proposal to fund around 230 miles of physical barriers along the southern border, he said, as part of a broader security plan. He also said it's not simply a matter of a giant wall, but physical barriers are a must.
On Friday, after meeting with agents for intelligence briefings, Crenshaw visited the McAllen Central Processing Center where agents gather information on the migrants before being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). FOX 26 was not allowed inside the processing center.
Before leaving the Rio Grande Valley, Crenshaw briefly toured another part of the border near McAllen. This time around, he said, he didn't meet with any landowners who oppose the wall.
"Not here, but I know they're out there," said Crenshaw. "I don't discount their opinions.
He went on to say, "This will be the first of many trips that I do as a Congressman. We'll go see other parts of the border too."
As the clock ticks before the government could shut down over border wall funding again, Crenshaw believes President Trump can legally declare a national emergency but said he hopes it won't get to that point.
"Like many members of Congress, I really want to see Congress appropriate the money for this," concluded Crenshaw.