/ Modified feb 17, 2023 4:38 p.m.

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy visits Southern Arizona border

This is McCarthy's first visit to the border in his new leadership role.

Close up of Kevin McCarthy and Juan Ciscomani in Hereford, Arizona Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks about "gaps in the border" during a press gaggle along the Southern Arizona border on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023 in Hereford, AZ. During his trip, McCarthy emphasized the need for more hearings along the border and asked for Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to visit and listen to locals.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, along with accompanying representatives, toured the Tucson sector and parts of the Arizona-Mexico border in Cochise County Thursday. This is McCarthy’s first visit to the border as speaker.

McCarthy called for officials, like Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, to visit the border to hear on the ground testimonies regarding border security. McCarthy was joined by all freshmen representatives, including Southern Arizona’s Juan Ciscomani. He said that the new majority in the House of Representatives will offer new ideas and opportunities, like more hearings along the border.

“[Juan Ciscomani] understands what immigration means, who emigrated at age 11 from Mexico here for a better life,” McCarthy said. “These are new voices, new people. Take a look at who they are.”

Ciscomani has gained popularity in the GOP after leading the Spanish rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech. Recently, he was the only freshman congressman appointed to the Appropriations Committee, which writes legislation to provide funding for different government agencies, departments and organizations.

He led efforts in planning the trip and emphasized that they were looking to better understand security issues.

“We’re not here talking about immigration reform,” Ciscomani said. “We’re here talking about border security. These are two different issues and we need to deal with them separately.”

Ciscomani went on saying that fentanyl is a top priority when looking at the border, pointing that this is an issue that impacts the entire country–not just Arizona or border areas.

Republican Representatives Lori Chavez-DeRemer from Oregon, Jen Kiggans from Virginia and Derrick Van Orden from Wisconsin joined the trip as well. They shared their concerns regarding their districts’ growing issues with fentanyl.

“Every city is now a border city because that is where the fentanyl comes,” McCarthy said.

However, issues regarding how fentanyl crosses the border are disputed.

During the press conference, McCarthy said that the Tucson sector has increased to the third highest ranking in border crossings. According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Tucson is ranked the fifth highest only being two months into the new year and fourth highest for last year.

Kevin McCarthy border visit press conference Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy visited Southern Arizona on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. McCarthy was joined along with four freshmen representatives, including Arizona's Juan Ciscomani. The trip gained pushback from Democrats who called it a "photo opportunity."
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Following the event, Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa said that he shared similar concerns surrounding border security with McCarthy and Ciscomani.

McCaa said that he discussed his concerns surrounding the social media recruitment of teens and young adults to smuggle migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border and the safety hazard it poses to drivers in Sierra Vista.

“We’ve seen chases going through Sierra Vista and it exceeds 100 miles-per-hour, going through our populated city,” said McCaa. “Going down [SR] 92 or 90, you always have to be vigilant. There is a possibility that some teenager with a car load of [undocumented aliens] coming, barreling a hundred miles-per-hour behind you or in front of you, you know, your head is always on a swivel.”

McCaa said his concern is fueled by a tangible fear.

“I have a 16-year-old daughter,” he added. “What would happen if she’s on the road and one of these cars, these load cars hit her? We’d be devastated. I’d be devastated. What if one of those load cars hit my mom while she’s walking on her morning walk?”

The trip from McCarthy has gained pushback from representatives like Democrat Raul Grijalva from Southern Arizona.

“Border communities deserve action not photo opportunities,” Grijalva said in a press release.

Grijalva visited Douglas to meet with Mayor Donald Huish and to tour the Raúl H. Castro Port of Entry on Thursday. The visit was planned prior to McCarthy’s trip and focused on the rollout of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. That provided $3.4 billion to fund 26 major construction projects at land ports of entry, like the Raúl H. Castro POE.

AZPM Cochise County reporter Summer Hom contributed to this report.

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