By Madison Underwood
Freshman Rep. Gary Palmer traveled to the U.S. border with Mexico over the weekend as part of a 23-member bi-partisan Congressional delegation on border security. The trip, led by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, included visits to border sites in California, Arizona, and Texas.
"In San Diego, we started out along the border, the fence, seeing where they'd tunneled," Palmer, R-Hoover, told AL.com Tuesday. He said fences can be a deterrent, but determined smugglers will find a way to get through. In San Diego, he learned tunnelers dug down 90 feet, traversed more than a mile, wired the tunnels for lighting, used dryer ducts to provide ventilation, and installed pumps to remove water.
"It's not just going to be a matter of building a fence and thinking that will wall them out," Palmer said. "These people are incredibly adept. They've got engineers involved in the process."
Despite that, he said law enforcement has made it difficult for tunnelers, so smugglers have moved their operations off-shore, requiring the Coast Guard to play a significant role in border enforcement.
Border work on the Tijuana-San Diego border requires consistent, strong enforcement due to the close geographical and cultural proximity of the two cities, Palmer said. "Once someone reaches a border, it's very easy for them to assimilate into the city, so rapid response and rapid interdiction are very important down there," he said. "It's very different along Arizona, and even moreso along Texas," where borders are longer, and river crossings are more frequent.
According to Palmer, in California where the border is relatively short, the local California officials work well with each other, but states with more significant border real estate struggle. That can put "a tremendous burden on local law enforcement with no resources from the federal government, really, to help them out that much," Palmer said. "It has become a big issue for [local law enforcement] because it's not just an immigration issue, it's gun smuggling, crime."
Palmer said he believes increased air surveillance - either by drone or balloon - could be effective "so you can see people staging before they get there." More boots on the ground and double fences are also solutions he's interested in.
But none of that will be of any use without consistent internal enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, Palmer said from Washington.
"My perspective, and I think the perspective of many members up here is that yeah, we want to invest more in terms of border infrastructure, and people and technology, but we've got to have the enforcement to back it up," he said.
"If all we do is put more boots on the ground, spend more money on aerial surveillance and build more fencing - if we don't have interior enforcement, that is, if we catch them and release them, what good does it do?" Palmer said.
On Monday evening, House Republican leaders set aside a McCaul-pushed bill that would provide border security options, with some -- including Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks -- decrying the lack of internal enforcement provisions in the bill.
Palmer, a first-term Congressman, traveled with the delegation as a member of the Republican Policy committee.