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State GOP leaders tour southern border, criticize VP Harris for not visiting

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Two of the three highest-ranking Assembly Republicans on Tuesday rehashed a trip they took last month to the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) accused Vice President Kamala Harris of failing in her duties of leading the response to a surge in illegal border crossings. The lawmakers said Harris should have visited the southern border before coming to Wisconsin, where she touted the Biden administration's pandemic recovery plans in Milwaukee.

"It's great that she's here in Wisconsin but the border is on fire," Steineke said. "Our country is being invaded; that's not our words, that's the words of local law enforcement in that area."

Steineke and August visited Val Verde County, Texas. The Assembly GOP put together a video including the Democratic county sheriff there, Joe Frank Martinez, who in the video pointed out an area along the Rio Grande River where migrants cross most frequently at 4:00 to 5:00 in the morning. Martinez did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Tuesday.

Steineke said both he and August used campaign funds "in part" to pay for the trip's expenses.

"It didn't cost state taxpayer dollars, a single dollar," Steineke said. "No state taxpayer money was used on this trip."

August said he was invited to visit the border by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. August said he then extended the invitation to Steineke.

"We had other events down there as well so it was political and policy trip," Steineke said, declining to elaborate on what those other events entailed.

Democrats accused the GOP leaders of being the ones who've misplaced priorities, saying their focus should have been on other issues in their state.

"There are people who are unhoused, who are continuing to be evicted in this state during an ongoing pandemic," said Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison). "We've got employment issues, the small businesses still need help and to see our top leadership go down to Texas and flee when their districts are needing legislators to come together and find solutions is very disheartening and disappointing."

The Republican leaders said their conversations with law enforcement and ranchers in Val Verde County reaffirmed their belief what's happening along the southern border is an issue for all 50 states.

"When I asked the sheriff 'why should Wisconsin care about this?' He shrugged his shoulders and said 'because we're not keeping them here. We're moving them out of this area as fast as we can,'" August said.

Citing figures from the U.S. Border Patrol as of April 25, posters behind the GOP leaders listed statistics outlining the increased traffic at the border: apprehensions increasing by 361 percent and criminal migrant apprehensions up 265 percent.

State Democrats responded by pointing to a Monday announcement from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that the number of migrant children being held in custody had decreased 84 percent.

To address the recent increase in traffic along the border, Steineke and August called on the Evers administration to send members of the Wisconsin National Guard to the southern border. The lawmakers declined to offer specifics about how many people they'd like to see shipped out.

"We're not getting overly prescriptive," Steineke said. "We're just saying [Evers] needs to reach out to these border states and offer assistance wherever we can."

Evers' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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