The passage of House Resolution 2, The Secure the Border Act of 2023, this past May was an important moment for border security in America. Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) comes onto the show to talk about the passage of this important measure.
John Popp: From The Heritage Foundation, this is Heritage Explains.
Mark Guiney: Like many American kids, I played Little League Baseball. My career was not an illustrious one. I was not a young Babe Ruth or a Jackie Robinson, rather than Grand Slams, double plays, and hair raising catches, glove outstretched in left field, my career consisted more of highlights like chewing a lot of gum, trying to pay attention in practice, and looking for four leafed clovers in the outfield. In fact, the reason I was on the team in the first place was that my brother, my younger brother, was on the team, and he could actually play baseball. For our coach, we came as a set, and that’s how I wound up on the team. I have no idea what my Little League batting average was. I can only say that it was low.
But every at bat starts with the feeling that something miraculous could happen, that, like a movie, the ball would slow down to a crawl, my swing would be perfectly aligned, and a crack would reverberate over the stands, the cows in the field nearby would stop chewing and stare as the ball rocketed out over center field, but that never happened. Instead, I struck out a lot. I remember one part of the season where I struck out eight times in a row. Now, in my career, I did get a few hits, and those are great memories. But those eight strikeouts in a row are tough to swallow. In public policy, sometimes it feels like we, as conservatives, fight our way to get up to the plate and strikeout again and again and again.
The border is one such area where even administrations and congresses, that share conservative values, have made very little headway in recent years. But now, thanks to the work of many people and organizations, it seems like we’ve got a solid hit. Today, on Heritage Explains, we are talking about that hit, House Resolution 2 or H.R.2 for short, the Secure the Border Act of 2023, which passed the house in May of this year. While the bill will not likely be signed into law, it is an important moment in the history of border legislation for the country. To explain why, I headed over to Capitol Hill, to speak to a congressman, who cast his vote for H.R.2.
Chip Roy: Chip Roy, represent the 21st Congressional District of Texas. People ask me all the time whether or not we have a secure border, and they mean it. Because you got people kind of saying, “What’s actually going on at the border?” And the fact is, under no definition of the term, is the southern border of the United States secure. It’s just not possible. And I use that phrase on purpose, because Secretary Mayorkas is trying to play games with how he defines whether a border is secure or not. He told me, under oath, that “Yes,” he answered to the question, when I asked whether we have operational control of the border. And then, he tried to play games with it in front of a Senate committee later the next year, when he said, “Under that definition, nobody’s ever had control of the border.” Meaning the definition, under the Secure Fence Act, which requires us to actually stop the flow of any individuals coming across the border and the flow of narcotics and establish full operational control of the border.
The fact is, no, it’s not even close. And if you’re a Texan, you know this. If you’re somebody with open eyes, you know this. You can’t have 72,000 dead Americans from Fentanyl poisonings in 2022. You can’t have thousands of people getting sold into the sex trafficking trade in the United States. You can’t have the damage that we’re seeing to ranches in South Texas, the damage to the economy, the damage to hospitals and schools, the bailouts, the damage to Texas Department of Public Safety. You can’t have all of the things that we’re seeing on a daily basis unfolding in Texas and around the country and, in any way, honestly say we have a secure border.
Guiney: So can you talk about being a congressman from Texas? Can you talk about your constituency? How are they affected by the state of our border? What have they been saying to you?
Roy: There are people throughout Texas, and I represent a district in central to southern Texas. The southwest corner of the district I represent is about a hundred miles from the border. I spend a lot of time along the border. I usually go down there every couple of months. And look, I have constituents who are dead from fentanyl poisoning, kids in the school district in which I reside. I have individuals that we know have been trafficked in the district I represent. We’ve caught them. We’ve stopped them. And then, we’ve got countless others that tell us stories of those who have not been caught. I’ve had constituents who’ve had loved ones get killed by people here illegally, whether they were murdered or whether they were killed by someone driving under the influence of alcohol, whatever it might be. There are hundreds, thousands of stories in Texas of Texans being directly impacted.
But it is really the ranchers in South Texas, the border community, San Antonio, to a degree, in terms of the people coming through San Antonio, going to the airport, and getting shipped out, the stash houses. But it’s the ranchers that are getting their fences cut, livestock are getting out, trash on their ranches. They’re unsecure. They’re unsafe. They’re having to carry weapons across their ranches now, not just to shoot rattlesnakes, but to be secure with people that are coming across. You have lots of single adult males. You have people that we now know affiliated with terrorist countries, people affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. These aren’t just all just families coming to the border looking for a better way of life. And the impact on the communities, even if you are one of those groups of people, on the hospitals, on the schools, it is a massive drain.
We’ve had a massive impact on how you handle an increase in population in schools, hospitals, and social welfare services. And finally, when you find 856 bodies on your ranches or along the Rio Grande or along the communities in South Texas or in Arizona, imagine the impact on the human soul. I’ve had 75 year old crusty Texas ranchers weeping, because they find a dead mother, they find a dead body. They have to deal with then dealing with calling the cops, and you’ve got to go through all the process. And you’ve got to deal with an autopsy, and then, you’ve got to figure out how to bury them or ship them home. This is a actual crisis happening in South Texas, and this administration literally acts like it’s not occurring.
Guiney: So there seems to have been, in recent months, a change in how Congress, particularly conservative congressman, are approaching the border issue. Can you talk about the trends out here, what you’ve observed?
Roy: I believe that we are heading in a very positive direction with respect to the border, but the only question’s going to be, is it too little, too late? And I think we have to act with urgency. We cannot wait for some supposed Republican presidential victory in 2024. We have to act now. I believe we took a giant step forward, for the first time in my adult lifetime, frankly, or certainly in my lifetime in public service, in passing H.R.2, this spring, out of the House of Representatives. For at least two decades, Republican orthodoxy has been “We must pass a comprehensive immigration bill.” And that was almost always double speak, driven by the Chamber of Commerce and people who wanted cheap labor, saying, “We don’t want to have border security,” because they really like their cheap labor. Well, that cheap labor was manageable when it was a few thousand or tens of thousands of basically adult single male Mexican workers who live in Juarez, who just want to come across the river and work in America.
And we were saying they should go through the legal channels, and businesses were saying, “I need the labor.” All right, that’s a manageable debate. But it was a problem. Unfortunately, Republicans failed to address the problem for two decades, and now, here we are, dealing with that. Republicans are finally getting religion that they’ve got to start with border security. The Biden crisis is so over the top, so outrageous, that the American people are now saying, “Guys, what are you doing?” And we now have Republicans finally stepping up. H.R.2 represents the strongest border security package ever passed in the United States. It would take giant leap forwards to secure the border of the United States.
And I’m always very careful to make claims like that. This bill would do that. Wouldn’t necessarily fully secure it, if you have a recalcitrant administration, like the Biden administration, that refuses to enforce any laws, but it would increase the number of tools, it would highlight the problems, and it would massively expand the ability of a Republican or conservative administration, or let me just rephrase it, an administration that actually respects the rule of law, to do what they need to do to secure the border.
Guiney: Can you give us some idea of the pieces, substantively, of this legislation, that would have that effect?
Roy: Sure. So the key part to securing the border is policy. Now, there’s really three things you need. You need infrastructure and tools. You need walls, you need technology, you need border patrol to have the resources they need. Radios, they need cars, all the things. You need personnel, and we’ve been bleeding personnel, border patrol who are overwhelmed, they’re overworked, they’re outgunned by cartels. We need to figure out how to hold our personnel. And third, probably most importantly, although it’s all three legs of the stool, you got to have policy. Policy meaning you’re taking the laws on the books, I.e., the Secure Fence Act, that you must have operational control of the border, all of the other laws about not having narcotics being trafficked and having human beings being trafficked into the sex trafficking trade, and all the things that we could do to enforce the laws of the border, requiring people to come to ports of entry, to make claims that they have them of asylum or anything else.
You’ve got to have policies that will actually reflect the laws of the United States. H.R.2 embraces those policies. We reform asylum, so that they can no longer be abused. We reform what is called TVPRA, which is really about unaccompanied alien children. All we do is match up the laws for all countries to what we currently have from Mexico and Canada, which basically means we’re going to, if you’re here and you’re a child, we’re going to make sure you’re not being trafficked. If you are being trafficked, we’re going to manage that. If not, we’re going to send you to your home country and reunite you with your family. We fix the catch and release problem. It’s called the Flores Settlement, which is nerdy lawyer speak for a decision that was made. But basically, we’re just saying, “You can no longer be caught and released.”
We’re going to hold family units together and not allow that to be a back door to release people. So we fix a lot of those pieces. But here’s the most important part. President Trump and his administration, my great friends, like Tom Homan and Mark Morgan, who are part of that administration, and countless others, they work to implement the Migrant Protection Protocols, return to Mexico. We embrace that by putting policies in there, that line up with the bill that I introduced last year, H.R.29, became a little controversial for a while, which was really just politics. I put it aside, because who cares who gets credit? Get rid of that bill. Let’s just take the policies in that bill and embrace it.
And we did, in H.R.2. And what that does is just simply says, “If you’re coming to the United States and you’re claiming asylum, then you are going to either be detained, you’re going to be put in expedited removal proceedings, or you’re going to be waiting in Mexico. Those are your three options, but we will process your claim of asylum, but you are not going to bum rush our border and get released into the United States.” Because that’s what’s been happening. So that would fix that. It also does a whole lot of things that need to be dealt with, in terms of E-Verify, so that you drop the magnet here in terms of hiring people that aren’t legally present in the United States. There are other pieces to the pie, but it’s the policy fixes that would fundamentally alter the landscape at the border.
Guiney: Of course, H.R.2 passes the house, but it doesn’t go through the Senate and it doesn’t get to the President’s desk, and if it had gotten there, it wouldn’t have survived. But why is it still so important?
Roy: H.R.2 is critically important, because for the first time, we had a united Republican front to pass legislation that did not touch any kind of amnesty, did not touch any kind of future flow questions, in terms of immigration, and focused entirely on border security, and embraced border security, that would actually work and secure the border and embrace the policy changes that need to occur, whether it’s a Republican president or a Democrat. That is profound. It’s the first time Republicans have had religion on border security in again, my entire known existence in public policy, which is now almost two decades, in various forms or fashion. So that’s critically important. Yes, it’s passed out of the House of Representatives. No, it hasn’t passed the Senate. No, it won’t be signed by the president, even if we get it to the president’s desk. But here’s what’s important. We’ve now laid the marker down for what a secure border looks like and what we’re going to demand.
My belief is Republicans should, in the next 18 months, require H.R.2 as the price for certain leverage points. Frankly, I believed that with respect to the debt ceiling. Well, I lost that fight. The debt ceiling deal, I don’t think, was the best deal in the world, but you know what? We’re going to keep moving the needle forward. We changed the focus on spending. It’s not where I wanted it to be, but it’s better than where it was. We changed the focus on the border. That’s actually in a great spot. Now, we need to pressure to get it done.
Guess what? We have an entire appropriations battle coming up. During all the appropriations fights on Homeland Security and everything we pass, we need to have provisions in there that will reflect H.R.2. But I’m going to demand that we need to get H.R.2 accomplished. And if they want my vote on must pass mandatory pieces of legislation, I’m going to say, “What are you doing for Texas? What are you doing for the border?” H.R.2 is sitting right there, and there are literally about 11 Democrats in the Senate and one man in the White House who stand between border security and the insanity that we currently have.
Guiney: What do you think happened on Capitol Hill? Obviously, the border crisis got way worse. That was one change. Were there any other changes in the way that conservatives here on the hill are behaving or looking at the situation that changed that allowed H.R.2 to happen?
Roy: Number one, we had a debate in January about how we would structure the House of Representatives around the speaker’s selection.
Guiney: This was the affair that happened around the election of Congressman McCarthy?
Roy: To be speaker of the house. That’s right. And so, we had an entire debate in early January about who would be the speaker and what would come with that. And one of those things was to make sure we had a sort of power sharing or that we had structured the balance of power, so that conservatives would have a seat at the table. And to his great credit, Speaker McCarthy has done that. So we were able to be a part of the voice of making this happen. We were able to get it passed. We were able to work with our colleagues, who have differing opinions and views on it. We were able to make some sacrifices and say, “You know what? I’ll give up X, if you’ll give us Y, and let’s go get it done.”
So we were able to do that. We were able to go through the rules committee and navigate through, and we were able to get a bill passed. Because we had a structure in place that worked. That also worked on the limit save grow effort, with respect to the debt ceiling and how we would change our spending patterns. Unfortunately, like I said, the deal that got cut left off the table a lot of the policy changes, including the Inflation Reduction Act, subsidies, but including H.R.2 not being a part of it. I wouldn’t have agreed to a $4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling without getting something really freaking good for it. And I promise you H.R.2 would’ve been on my short list.
Guiney: So sometimes for us, obviously on this podcast, we’ve talked about the border, we’ve talked about China, and a lot of times, our troubles come from really bad policy, and we’re used to seeing bad policy come out of more liberal administrations, more liberal congresses. But then, sometimes, it seems like, even as conservatives, when we’re in power, we don’t do a very good job of finding those policy solutions. Are you still an optimist about the American experiment, the American way of government? Sometimes it can really feel like we’re spinning our wheels, and we always will be.
Roy: Americans know what to do, we’ve just got to do it. And for too long, the swamp, to use the phraseology of the previous president, the establishment, the uniparty, whatever you want to call what’s happening in Washington, it has stood in the way of what the American people will naturally do if the government stays out of the way. The founders knew this. Okay? Our friend Kevin Roberts in Heritage, he gets it. He teaches this chapter and verse, and it’s something near and dear my heart, when we work together at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The balance of power, the structural protections put in place by the founders, both horizontally across the branches of government, vertically, federal, state, and local, they were critical to prohibiting the amassing of power in Washington that is standing in the way of the American people’s progress. We have one fundamental duty as the federal government, and that’s to protect the United States.
That is our core responsibility, and yet, we’re abandoning it. We are abandoning it across the world, in terms of a lot of our foreign policy decisions. We’re abandoning it, in terms of our military, by turning it into a social engineering experiment wrapped in a uniform. And we’re abandoning it at our southern border. We need to return the federal government to its core primary duty. Return to the people, the states, allow them to govern themselves and agree to disagree. If we do those things, the future for this country will be as bright as ever. I believe we can do that. I believe President Trump was a part of shaking and rattling the cage. There’s a large group of us that are not going to accept second place as an answer. The Freedom Caucus. Others who are joining our little merry band of brothers and sisters. I believe Governor Ron DeSantis has been showing how to do this in Florida.
I believe that we are going to have a new leap forward, I think, right now, in terms of reclaiming that great American experiment. And it’s starting to really catch, I think, the full force of the American people seeing leaders willing to do it, but we’re going to have to finish the job, and it’s not going to be pretty. We’re sometimes going to have to say no to some of our friends who think, “Well, wait, I thought we were all on the same team and we were all getting along.” “Well, we’re getting along, but I’m not here for second place. I’m here to actually win. I want to cut spending. I want to secure the border. I want to stop powering federal bureaucrats to stomp all over the liberties of the American people, whether it’s the FBI or the ATF or anybody else.”
And we have a duty to do that, a duty, and that’s what we’ve got to do in Congress, and that’s what I’d be looking forward to in 2024 in a presidential election. I think the main thing people need to understand about the border is that, whatever you’re seeing right now about the crisis, it’s not reflective of the reality. The use of the one app to process individuals coming through ports of entry. The real question is, where are they going? What are they doing? And are they returning back for any claim to asylum they have to have a proceeding? And the fact is we believe the administration is funneling thousands of people through that process to keep the numbers tamped down. They’re holding people in coordination with Mexico and other countries back, to keep the steady stream coming. You still have three to 4,000 people a day being apprehended, almost a hundred thousand or more a month, which is astronomically high compared to history.
But just because it’s less than the seven or 8,000, people think, “Oh, it’s better now.” Well, they just set a new norm. Talk about a Overton window shift. Hell, they’re just literally just moving the goalposts, as we speak. And we’ve got to keep reminding people, “Guys, it is still absolute chaos at our southern border. Border Patrol is still overwhelmed. They still are unable to actually go patrol the border. We still have fentanyl pouring into our country. We still have thousands of people coming into our country, either because they’re being apprehended or they’re just literally being processed.”
We’ve got to reform that or we’re never going to be able to have actual operational control of the border. Texas will be overwhelmed, our country will be overwhelmed, and frankly, we’re just, we’re begging for a kind of disaster that could occur. Because we’re not actually be able to secure the border. That’s what the American people need to understand. But on the hopeful side, we have many more people in Washington who finally get it. They’re no longer just doing the bidding of whatever the chamber says, and now, we need to do something to actually start with sovereignty and work from there.
Guiney: Congressman Chip Roy, thank you.
Roy: Thanks, man.
Guiney: Clearly, H.R.2 shows some really positive momentum in the conservative movement. I had Heritage border expert, Lora Ries, who you may remember from episode one, take a listen to my interview with Congressman Roy and give her own thoughts on what was said. She thought it was particularly important to dive into the congressman’s thoughts on China. Listeners of our show know that we just wrapped up our last season on China, so I was only too happy to hear what you had to say. All right, Lora Ries, welcome back.
Lora Ries: Thanks.
Guiney: So you had a chance to listen to the conversation with Chip Roy. Anything stand out to you?
Ries: Yes. He mentioned China, and this is something that is very important when we talk about the national security threats that the Biden administration’s open border agenda is driving. And if you look at the data that Customs and Border Protection puts out nationwide encounters of illegal aliens, inadmissible aliens, there is a rapid noticeable jump in the number of Chinese nationals who have been encountered at the border. So if you look at, say, 2020, typically, the Chinese nationals number in the 1000 range. In 2021, Biden’s first year, it starts to go up to the 2000 range. So far this fiscal year, it has rapidly increased to the 3000 range. And in April and May, it’s been over 5,000 Chinese nationals each month. So the total so far for fiscal year 23 is almost 29,000 Chinese nationals. And we still have four months to go. And most of them are single adults. And while CBP doesn’t formally report age or gender, border patrol agents have told House Homeland Committee Chairman Mark Green that it’s military aged men, mostly ages 25 to 30.
Guiney: So can you talk about what most illegal aliens are looking for when they’re coming into the United States? And then, we can talk about who these folks from China might be.
Ries: Right. So people coming here illegally generally want five things. They want to enter the US, they want to be able to stay here as long as possible. They want to work here, they want to send money home, and they want to bring family here. And so, when people talk about secure the border or different bills in Congress to secure the border, elements need to combat those five things. So for example, the house just passed H.R.2, the Secure the Border Act, and it includes finishing the wall that the border agents asked for. It includes reinstating the Remain in Mexico policy. It includes having a safe third country concept, which is, if someone is fleeing for their life and they’re coming from Central America, they should ask for asylum protection in the first safe country in which they arrive, not traverse multiple safe countries, just a country shop, and ask for it in the US.
All of those will help prevent the enter, which is the number one thing that people want when they come here illegally. To prevent the stay, number two, the bill includes things like ending catch and release, it removes visa overstays, it gets after asylum fraud. All of those are tools that illegal aliens use to stay here longer. In terms of working here, there’s a big component in H.R.2 about making E-Verify not only permanent but also mandatory. So there’s a lot of good provisions in H.R.2, but just as a test for any legislation, if we want to prevent illegal immigration, it needs to prevent some or more of those five things.
Guiney: What would be driving the immigration from China? The same thing
Ries: For some, yes, but we also have to assume, and there has been some discussion that some of them do have ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army. And just as Moscow sent a number of Russians into Ukraine before that conflict broke out, we have to assume that Beijing is doing the same thing here, to help explain the sudden rapid increase of Chinese nationals showing up on our southern border. We know that China does a variety of spying here and intellectual property theft. We just went through the whole balloon incident, and they’re obviously not honest about it. So is this boosting their espionage tactics? Is it more intellectual property theft? Is it China’s also established local police operations in various cities around the US?
They’re buying American land near some very sensitive area. The Chinese communist Party is using a number of tactics to boost their own economy, weaken US as a superpower, and we have to assume that, given the single adults, that they’re males, they’re military age, we have to take this very seriously. And it’s just one of many reasons why this administration needs to secure the border, to stop endangering Americans. The other point about China is a lot of Chinese nationalists come here. China is one of those countries that does not cooperate in taking their nationals back. They’re considered a recalcitrant country. There are other countries like that, Vietnam and some others, Cuba.
Guiney: So these are folks who’d say, when our customs and border patrol folks apprehend people and when we try to arrange... Because we have to arrange with those governments to send people back, is that...?
Ries: Yeah, that’s right. When either an alien’s going to be removed or they receive a final order of removal, say, from an immigration judge, then ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has to work with that country, get a travel document for them to go back to their home country. But in some case, there are countries that do not cooperate in that regard, and China is one of them. Then we are stuck with foreign nationals from these countries, and when we already have concerns about the makeup of the Chinese nationals who are coming here right now, single adults, male, military age. What does that mean for us long term? There are tools that the US government can use with recalcitrant countries. The most common one are visa sanctions. So if a country doesn’t cooperate to take their nationals back, we can say, “All right, then we are no longer going to issue you a subset of temporary visas, whether that is business travelers or vacationers.”
And then, the government, US government, can dial that up, if that country is still not going to cooperate, to other visa types as well. Unfortunately, that’s a tool that is not used often enough, particularly by this administration. Nor do many administrations tend to dial it up when they really should. We, in addition to what’s happening on our southern border, with illegal crossers, we take in a lot of Chinese nationals on various types of visas, particularly foreign students. They’re the number one nationality for foreign student visas that we give. So a lot of tools available to get countries to cooperate, but to be seen if the administration’s willing to use it.
Guiney: What do we do with them in the meantime?
Ries: Well, they stay here, and if they are in removal proceedings, they can be detained, but they can’t be detained indefinitely. And so, then, they are released, and they continue living here, and unless we make an arrangement with a third country to take them in for resettlement. But that’s pretty rare tactic.
Guiney: H.R.2, Congressman Roy, very positive, his take on it, but he’s a politician. You’re a policy expert. So was your take similar to his?
Ries: Yes, it was a fantastic bill in terms of policy, things that have not been passed before, things that Hill staff have wished for, and just no serious immigration bill has passed since 1996. It was a big win for the house, with even smaller majority margin than in past years, where they’ve tried other immigration bills and failed. So it’s now incumbent upon the Senate to take that bill up and move it as far as they can and make President Biden veto it. But it also sets the table for any serious bill going forward, particularly with a new administration in 2025.
Guiney: Why would it be important for President Biden to veto it?
Ries: Well, we have to assume that he would veto it. There’s a lot of enforcement measures in it, and this administration is not about immigration enforcement. They have rolled back enforcement completely. They don’t seem to be for securing the border. And this bill would secure the border, not just stop the flow, but maintain a secure border over the long run. And President Biden has made very clear, he also wants amnesty for however many millions of illegal aliens who are here currently, depending on how he and the left would scope that. And this bill does not have an amnesty. Amnesty is bad policy, because it just encourages more illegal immigration. People think, “Well, if I can just get in and bide my time,” that stay element I mentioned before, “Then I too will eventually get a green card.” And so, when you give amnesty or even talk about amnesty, it just perpetuates that. And then, we never get out of this cycle.
Guiney: And so, the point of having him have to veto the bill is he would have to put his name on the dotted line and say that “We are not for these border enforcement policies.”
Ries: Right. And the vast, vast majority want a secure border. So that would certainly be in contravention of what Americans want, but that’s how he’s been operating thus far. He has said he would veto such a bill, and we should believe him.
Guiney: It’s good to have an episode where we can look back at something positive and see progress being made in a crucial area. As in baseball, that sport that seems to capture the spirit of America more than any other, there’s nothing like an underdog, there’s nothing like a challenge, there’s nothing like getting a hit when you need it most. Thanks to the offices of Congressman Chip Roy and Lora Ries for their contributions to this episode. And thank you for listening to Heritage Explains. If you have any thoughts or feedback for the podcast, please send us a message at [email protected]. We’ll see you next week. Take care.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It's written and produced by Mark Guiney, Lauren Evans, and John Popp, production assistance by Alexa Walker and Jeff Smith. Special thanks to Dr. Kevin Roberts.