While the debate surrounding a wall along the U.S. southern border continues around dining tables throughout our region, it’s also intensifying among lawmakers in our nation’s capitol.
East Tennessee has a seat at the table in the conversation, as Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-District 3) is serving on the joint select committee, which was formed after the government reopened and is made up of bipartisan leaders, that aims to reach an agreement both sides can agree on.
Another shutdown looms with a deadline of Feb. 15, or just more than one week away.
Wednesday, Rep. Fleischmann spoke about the budget battle on a trip to the Capitol, days after he made a trip to the border in Texas, New Mexico, and California.
He called the experience eye-opening.
He learned one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to needs at the border, but the trip did solidify his view that there is a need for more money for security.
“The system is literally being overwhelmed. there is a humanitarian crisis, the whole situation is a crisis. We have got to address border security, so it’s wall plus. More personnel, additional technology and things like that,” he said.
As the ranking Republican congressman on the house appropriations committee for homeland security, he hopes to help appeal to both sides and ultimately unite lawmakers to avoid another shutdown.
“I always thought it was a crisis. I would characterize it now as a mega-crisis, whether it’s humanitarian, security, all of the above. We’ve got to address that, not as republicans and democrats, not as senators and house members, but as Americans, as American legislators,” Fleischmann added.
He says he learned the influx of illegal immigration stems beyond “triangle countries” including Honduras and El Salvador. He learned, on his visit south, people have been detained from more than 30 countries including China, Russia, and the Middle East.
Following the trip, he calls the state of the border a tremendous danger to U.S. security, citing a rampant drug problem and a lack of resources. On his trip, he says, officials had just seized millions of dollars worth of street drugs from one car.
Another East Tennessee lawmaker, Rep. Tim Burchett (R – District 2) indicated Tuesday the President could consider using military resources to build a wall along the southern border.
While Fleischmann doesn’t know if a deal is in the future among lawmakers, he says a continuing resolution is an opportunity to keep the government open while continuing the debate, although he says that option isn’t ideal. He vows to work to keep the government open.
Fleischmann says the special committee has met twice, but there is a lot of interaction and meeting among staff.
He explained a two-part strategy. First, he says, they’re finding areas where there is common ground, which he says is abundant. The second step is to tackle the major areas of disagreement, including border wall funding.
Fleischmann wants to go beyond a wall and ensure more resources, including more beds to increase capacity at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities.
On his message to both leaders in both parties: “Let’s be reasonable. Let’s do what Americans do in their everyday life. They sit down, work out their differences and come up with a solution that’s palpable to all.”