Kay Granger calls for combo of smart tech, barriers to secure southern border

Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger laid out her plans for securing the border on Wednesday, including smart technology and what she called physical “barriers” where experts have said they would have the greatest effect.

She also called for increased funding for additional border agents and canines.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to reach agreement in support of things experts on the border have said they need in order to secure our homeland and address the crisis we face,” said Granger, who is now her party’s highest-ranking official on the House Appropriations Committee.

Granger is part of the group of 16 lawmakers that must come up with a plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security by Feb. 15 to prevent another government shutdown.

Republican leaders are eager to avoid another shutdown, and they opened the week with talk of barriers, not a wall, as President Donald Trump has requested. But even talk of barriers draws skepticism from Democrats.

“Not a penny for Trump’s wall,” Rep. Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat who represents part of the border, said of his expectations for the Texans on the committee Wednesday.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, another Democrat and the only other Texan on the panel with Granger, pointed to FBI statistics that show crime at the border is lower than many other big cities across the country — including Fort Worth.

The negotiating committee includes some of Capitol Hill’s most skilled pragmatists, many of whom have worked together for years on complicated spending deals on the House and Senate appropriations committees.

Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said the committee could have a deal quickly if all they needed was consensus among themselves. But the group needs to come up with a plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security that can not only pass the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House, but also win a signature from Trump, who wants millions of dollars for a “big, beautiful wall.”

While Shelby said he was open to a variety of solutions to secure the border, “we represent the Republican side of the interests, and the president is a Republican,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Other GOP members on the committee were adamant about delivering on Trump’s promise to voters.

“I want to be candid with my friends, I do think we need a wall, a physical barrier, where the barrier works,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican from New York, who also called for increased technology and border patrol agents.

Granger previously chaired the House panel funding the State Department and foreign operations budget, which distributes foreign aid. She has long pushed her party to focus on what is driving so many immigrants to America’s southern border, and she traveled to Central America to assess the situation with Cuellar and Rep. David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, in 2014.

“Kay was watching the implications of the surge nationally, but especially in Fort Worth through organizations like Catholic Charities... they were reaching capacity in terms of being able to house migrant children,” said Granger’s former chief of staff Matt Leffingwell.

“This debate now has been framed by the administration as being about border security and a wall, and back then (in 2014) it was about the kids,” said Leffingwell, who traveled with Granger to Central America. “Our experience on it then was focused on a different approach... Kay viewed our foreign assistance as a possible tool for our national security and our homeland security, she really felt like it was good bang for your buck.”

Granger on Wednesday continued to push her colleagues to address the humanitarian crisis, through additional immigration judges to reduce the court backlog for asylum seekers, and funding for medical support and temporary housing for people who are arriving at the border.

“I have been to the border more times than I can count. I have talked to these families who are risking their lives and the lives of their children to come here,” said Granger. “We owe it to all of these families to do something about this crisis.”

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.