members of Congress tour an area near the Texas-Mexico border
A group of about 60 House Republicans visited Eagle Pass, Texas, together in early January. Eric Gay/AP

What’s the Point of Those Politician Trips to the Border?

Lawmakers from both parties visit the U.S.-Mexico border to see the immigration crisis up close. But there’s plenty they miss.

When politicians visit the border in Texas, what they see often depends on the party they’re from. Republicans usually see Eagle Pass. Democrats often see El Paso. And while they all walk away with a photo op, that doesn’t mean they’re getting the full picture.

In the past few years, more than a hundred Republicans have visited the border town of Eagle Pass, the site of an ongoing battle between the federal government and Texas over who has the authority to police the border. The visits are often enforcement-focused, featuring tours of border patrol facilities and briefings with both officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and increasingly with members from the Texas Department of Public Safety as the state has devoted resources to Operation Lone Star.

Democrats, meanwhile, more often visit El Paso, where they tend to meet with not just immigration enforcement figures, but migrant-focused groups too — sometimes even migrants themselves. Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar has hosted more than 30 House Democrats who made the trip to El Paso to see the immigration crisis up close, according to her office.

There are some practical reasons for those disparities. Congressional delegations, or CODELs, are usually hosted by a local representative; in Eagle Pass, that’s GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales, whereas in El Paso, it’s Escobar. And, of course, the parties tend to want to send different messages through their trips.

They also have different takeaways. Democrats, post-visit, typically have called for comprehensive immigration reform that addresses both the border and migrants crossing them. Republicans have called for urgent action, too, often via increased enforcement — but even after a group of more than 60 lawmakers visited Eagle Pass in early January, many quickly rejected the idea of passing legislation.

That’s grating to people on the ground, who feel like Eagle Pass is being used as a symbol rather than a place where real people live, work and are affected by immigration and the enforcement apparatus every day.

“It sucks that Republicans feel like they can come down here and take advantage of some of our frustration to say, ‘See, even the people down here, don’t want them coming,’” said former state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat who represented Eagle Pass in the Texas legislature. “That’s not the case. We just don’t want it to be like this. And we certainly are acutely aware that Republican attempts to deal with this problem have failed.”


Gonzales believes that these visits, which he’s been hosting since he took office in 2021, help expose a migrant crisis on the southern border. Gonzales often reiterates that “showing up matters.”

“Eagle Pass is not an easy place to get to,” he told NOTUS. “You gotta fly into San Antonio. You got to drive three hours in the middle of nowhere.”

When Speaker Mike Johnson and about 60 other House GOP lawmakers visited Eagle Pass in early January, they were in the city for roughly six hours in total after staying in San Antonio, where they were briefed by CBP officials, the night before. While there, members toured the U.S. Border Patrol Facility known locally as the “Firefly” facility for its location on Firefly Lane. They then heard presentations from local law enforcement officials as well as members from the Texas Department of Public Safety leadership like Director Steve McCraw and Mike Banks, the border czar appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott. After that, they held a press conference steps away from the border. They did not visit any nonprofit organizations that work with migrants directly.

The visit, like most CODELs, didn’t seem to change anyone’s mind on policy. Some Republicans on that trip said afterward that they had no intention of supporting legislation to address the border if it would benefit the president. And Republicans have followed through on that promise, immediately rejecting a bipartisan deal negotiated in the Senate.

That means for now, Eagle Pass’s nearly 30,000 residents, most of whom are Hispanic and a third of whom live below the poverty line, will remain in the same situation they’re in. And it proves the border visits aren’t doing much good at actually making U.S. lawmakers enact policy changes, argued state Rep. Eddie Morales, a Democrat who represents Eagle Pass in the Texas House of Representatives.

“Many of us are first- or second-generation immigrants. And you know, we’re blue-collar workers who just understand and want a better life for our families and understand that through hard work and sweat, we can accomplish that,” he said of Eagle Pass residents. “I think that gets lost in all this translation. And especially when you have folks that just want to use our community and our riverbanks as their backdrop, and as a prop for their political theater, but with no real angling of them wanting to fix the issue.”

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Gonzales rejected the idea that the visits are unproductive, arguing it’s important for politicians to “see the realities of this crisis with their own eyes.”

“Once you see what border communities are going through, you have a better grasp of the problem and a greater understanding of how to fix it,” he continued in a statement to NOTUS. “My district spans over 800 miles of the southern border — we’re tired of political games here. We’re focused on results, not rhetoric, which is why I am willing to sit down and have a conversation with anyone who is ready to roll up their sleeves and fix this problem for good.”


When Democrats visit the border in El Paso, their focus is meeting with federal immigration enforcement, nonprofit groups that work with migrants and migrants themselves, according to a Democratic staffer involved in the trips.

During a CODEL to El Paso in February, eight Democratic members toured the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry, saw processing facilities set up by both the federal and county governments and met with local groups that have worked with migrant populations to offer services, supplies and free legal aid. They spent just under 24 hours in the city.

“There is so much more to the immigration problem than just building a wall or putting more border patrol agents at the border,” Escobar told NOTUS. “In El Paso, when I’ve hosted members, it is important to show them other areas that the crisis touches, from nonprofits who work with migrants to even those crossing themselves.”

Like Republican trips, Democratic ones aren’t necessarily comprehensive. Democrats do not typically meet with Texas officials who have become increasingly involved in the migrant crisis under Abbott. Also like Republicans, Democrats typically reiterate preexisting stances on immigration after their border visits. In a memo that was given to the offices of members who visited El Paso in the most recent CODEL, Escobar and her staff provided those members with sample tweets and press releases that should be released while there.

Not all border trips are split by party. Democratic Rep. Don Davis of North Carolina went to Eagle Pass with Gonzales in January. And Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat and close friend of Gonzales who also represents a border district, has taken part in bipartisan CODELs to the border, most recently visiting McAllen with Republicans Michael McCaul, Monica De La Cruz and Randy Weber.

At least one lawmaker in Congress is growing tired of the political trips to the border. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent who negotiated the Senate’s failed bipartisan immigration deal, recently blasted politicians who visit the border.

“If you want to continue to use the southern border as a backdrop for your political campaign, that’s fine — good luck to you,” she said on the Senate floor last week. “But I have a very clear message for anyone using the southern border for staged political events: Don’t come to Arizona. Take your political theater to Texas.”

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.