The Sinaloa cartel is now the biggest employer in Cochise County, Arizona, because it hires so many people to smuggle people and drugs, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Thursday.
Making his first trip to the border as speaker, Mr. McCarthy said the Mexico-based cartel has been emboldened and enriched by the policies of President Biden, with devastating consequences in border communities and far beyond.
“These are terrorist organizations, call them as such and take the actions to stop them,” the California Republican said in a challenge to Mr. Biden.
He also blasted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whom he said needs to adjust and restore the policies that worked in the Trump years.
“Stop lying to the American people,” Mr. McCarthy challenged the secretary.
The speaker traveled with several newly elected Republicans to the border, getting an up-close look at the wall — and places where it remains unfinished following Mr. Biden’s Inauguration Day halt of construction.
Mr. McCarthy said the surge of people is particularly dangerous in this part of the border because it’s not the families showing up looking to be caught and released, but rather single adults who hope to sneak through undetected.
Citing the local sheriff, he said only the Sinaloa cartel knows who the illegal migrants are. He said the cartel controls this stretch of the border on the Mexican side and approves — or disapproves — every single illegal crossing.
The cartel has taken to hiring American teenagers as smuggling drivers on the U.S. side, which Mr. McCarthy said is the proof of his claim that the cartel is now the largest employer in the area.
The border has erupted as a major fault line in Washington, with Mr. Biden desperate for something that will tame the record lawlessness and Republicans eager to place the crisis on his shoulders.
Pressed on what solutions his party would offer, Mr. McCarthy said House Republicans have only been in power for a little more than a month and they are already working on bills. But he said they want to hear from experts first.
Multiple House committees are holding hearings about the situation — including one slated for next week in Yuma, Arizona, with the Judiciary Committee.
Democrats announced Thursday they will boycott, calling it a “stunt.”
“Instead of focusing on real solutions to a complicated problem, Judiciary Republicans will once again not hear from any federal government witnesses at their hearing, further cementing this hearing as a brazen act of political grandstanding,” said Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who serve as the top Democrats on the full committee and its immigration subcommittee.
They said they’ll make their own trip to the border next month.
On a previous trip to the border in 2021, Mr. McCarthy helped shine a light on the number of terrorism suspects crossing.
He revealed that agents had told him of people being nabbed whose names were flagged by the government’s terrorism screening database. The claim met with derision from Democrats on Capitol Hill and from media fact-checkers, who said there was no evidence to back up his claims.
Last year, however, thanks to pressure from House Republicans, Customs and Border Protection began publishing the terrorism numbers and it turned out Mr. McCarthy was correct.
Agents reported apprehending 15 illegal immigrants at the southern border in fiscal year 2021 who were listed on the terrorism watchlist. In 2022, that surged to 98. And through the first four months of fiscal year 2023, it’s already at 53, which is on pace to shatter last year’s record.
By contrast, agents recorded just 11 encounters in total from fiscal year 2017 to 2020, which roughly corresponds with the Trump years.