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A Busy Six Weeks

September 10, 2019
Weekly Columns

Even though the U.S. House of Representatives was not in session, I kept a busy schedule during the extended work period. Throughout the last six weeks, I spent a great deal of time in Oklahoma hearing directly from constituents, local community leaders and small business owners at town halls and other meetings. In addition to these valuable conversations with fellow Oklahomans, I participated in two insightful learning trips with some of my colleagues in Congress.

At the beginning of August, I traveled to countries in the far east with a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers from both chambers. Focused on foreign policy and defense issues, the trip made stops in Japan, Singapore, Australia and Fiji, where we met with diplomats from each country. On the way home, we stopped in Hawaii to meet with Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command; Admiral Davidson oversees the largest military theater in the world.

Throughout the various meetings with leadership in the region, I repeatedly noticed two common themes. First, there is a very real fear of Chinese aggression, especially since China has relentlessly built up its naval fleet and continues to flex its muscles in the South China Sea. Certainly, the United States has a vested and significant interest in protecting the Pacific from Chinese provocation and ensuring global trade is undeterred in international waters. Second, support for the United States as an ally remains strong in the region. After hearing from our friends and allies abroad, I believe we must stand by them in the face of the Chinese – not only because it's the right thing to do, but our friends' freedom in the Pacific also yields benefits for the U.S. from a trade and military standpoint.

After I returned from my first trip, I kicked off a series of town hall meetings across the Fourth District of Oklahoma with stops in Norman, Chickasha, Pauls Valley, Duncan and Moore as well as a telephone town hall meeting. Especially when I have extended and dedicated time back at home, town halls are an incredibly useful forum to hear from constituents, and I always remain available until every question or comment is answered and addressed. I am grateful to the hundreds of constituents who took the time to participate in these recent events.

Last week, I spent a couple days visiting the U.S.-Mexico border with Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Roy Blunt. During our visit, I had the chance to observe the situation and hear directly from those monitoring and managing the various humanitarian and security needs. We toured numerous facilities in the Rio Grande Valley and met with officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to hear more about and assess funding needs.

As the top Republican leader of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for crafting and marking up legislation to fund humanitarian aid for minors in holding facilities, this was a particularly important experience for me. While I am relieved that Congress provided desperately needed emergency aid earlier this summer, members in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle must continue to work together to ensure those serving on the front lines have the resources they need to compassionately confront the crisis and keep our citizens safe.

It was helpful to learn more about what has caused the high numbers of illegal crossings attempted and the resulting backlogs. Border patrol simply lacks the ability to deport illegal immigrants fast enough. Although Mexican citizens can be sent to their home country immediately after attempting to illegally cross the border, that is not the case for people who come from countries in Central and South America, which has previously caused massive overflows in holding facilities. Another problem that law enforcement faces is the fact that more and more single adult males are claiming unrelated unaccompanied minors as their own family hoping they will get to stay, since the United States does not deport minors. Fortunately, the funding given by Congress has allowed border patrol to conduct DNA tests, and the results have shown that a significant number of adult males are lying about their relationship with unaccompanied minors.

As the House returns this week for legislative session, I am grateful to be armed with the thoughts and concerns that I heard during my time at home as well as valuable insight from my trips abroad. For those who were unable to participate in town hall meetings, I hope you will join me in the future so we can talk in person.