U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said there are specific areas of the southern border that should have new wall construction, while Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said a wall may be needed, but it should have doors in it.
Both men appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics in interviews conducted before Friday afternoon’s agreement to re-open the government. On Friday (Jan. 25), President Donald Trump delayed his month-long insistence for $5.7 billion in border wall funding and agreed to a spending bill that would end the federal government shutdown.
Hill said that despite Trump seemingly undoing an agreed upon spending package before Christmas, it was important for Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the president to negotiate “in good faith.”
“I do think there needs to be good faith on both sides. We need Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump both negotiating in good faith. They both have to trust in a process that leads to an outcome,” Hill said.
“I think members in both the House and Senate desperately want their leaders to come together and reason together and come up with an appropriate middle ground,” he added.
Gray said the impasse that penalized federal workers for 35 days was politics at its worse. He also criticized the president and some Republicans for making border security “a wedge issue.”
“Border security has been a question for as long as we’ve existed and it has not been strictly a Republican issue. We’ve had Democratic presidents say we needed to address border security. We’ve seen clips come out during the shutdown where there were Democratic leaders that said build a wall. And it’s just become, they’re playing to a wedge issue,” Gray said.
“The president is using border security, but what he’s really saying is I’m playing to your fears and racism and uneducated assumptions about what’s really going on down there and I know this is a wedge issue that works in the five-minute conversation at every coffee shop in America,” he added.
“I’m going to take the human face off of it and make it what it is. We saw during the campaign season, especially here in Little Rock in the Second District where we saw mailers that were MS-13 and things like that. It’s not a true question about border security. It’s more playing to the base and the fears and using a wedge issue and that’s campaign stuff. It’s not governing stuff,” Gray said in reference to last year’s heated campaign between Hill and Democratic challenger Clarke Tucker.
Both men said that building a wall or fence could be part of the solution. Hill, who has visited the southern U.S. border four times said Homeland Security officials need to repair older sections of the wall and have identified new areas where a wall would help.
“The Homeland Security Department’s recommended about 200 miles of additional fencing and when we say fencing, it’s a double fence with a parallel road system with lighting, with infrared technology for recognition at night vision and all the bells and whistles technologically with it. And those would be probably in south Texas where there’s very limited fencing in certain of the municipal areas and certain open areas in south Texas. People are not proposing obviously this kind of technology in the rugged canyon country of Big Bend,” Hill said.
Gray says that average Arkansans he talks to want a border wall, but have their minds opened when conditions for migrants and the process is explained. He contends that a wall may make sense, but other immigration fixes will have more impact.
“Build a wall where you need the wall. Put some doors in it. Spend some money down there to staff the problem. It shouldn’t take seven years or you shouldn’t have to have a doctorate to be able to get to America if you want to come work and provide a better life for your family. So go staff it so where someone can get here easier, legally if they want to,” Gray said.
“By the way, go put a strict penalty on employers that are employing undocumented workers because they are benefiting from this problem. But those are campaign donors. Those are influencers,” he said. “Maybe there are places where we need to build a wall, but we’ve got to put some doors in it. We’ve got to get a clear path to citizenship and fix this thing and we’ve got to penalize bad actors. That’s what we need out of Washington. We need solutions. No more of this blame it on the other.”
You can watch Hill’s and Gray’s interviews in the video below.