Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, implored the White House to strengthen security at the United States’ southern border and called on tougher stances on local crime as well as more support for local law enforcement in a teleconference town hall on Thursday.
Those were just a couple of the topics that Garcia touched on during his hourlong talk with constituents of California’s 27th Congressional District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley. Due back in Washington, D.C., next week, Garcia said he wanted to make sure that he spoke with his constituents before departing.
“We are in a relatively tumultuous time in our nation’s history,” Garcia said, “and I wanted to take some time here to outline some of the national security issues and some of the international security issues that are going on, not just within our borders, but around the planet, that affect our country and affect, obviously, things that are going on in D.C.”
Securing the U.S.-Mexico border
In terms of border security, Garcia was adamant that this is “truly a crisis.” He referenced his own experiences visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, Arizona and California, as well as reports of 2.4 million encounters with people at the southern border in 2023 and 300,000 encounters in December alone.
According to Garcia, that number of encounters in 2023 would be enough to populate about 30% of American states.
“The problem is not getting better. It’s actually getting exponentially worse,” Garcia said. “And in my opinion, besides our nation’s debt is probably the biggest single national security crisis that we’re currently facing.”
For Garcia, the solution to this problem is as simple as following the laws in place. Those, he said, call for not allowing illegal immigrants to come across the border, but do allow for a legal process to enter the country and become a permanent citizen.
“I am not anti-immigration,” Garcia said. “I am the son of an immigrant. I support legal immigration. That is what our country is founded on. And we have a process that, frankly, can be faster, it can be more efficient. We can get people processed quicker, but also get folks that we desperately need in the workforce.”
As part of a solution, Garcia called on the U.S. Senate to pass House Resolution 2, authored by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, which would require the Department of Homeland Security “to resume all activities related to constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that were underway or planned prior to Jan. 20, 2021.”
That bill, passed by the House of Representatives last May, is awaiting passage in the Senate.
“This isn’t just a wall,” Garcia said. “These are larger fences with security devices, technology that monitor and sense traffic with video cameras, infrared cameras, and allow folks to be tracked as they’re coming across border.”
Combatting local crime
Somewhat attached to the border issue is the issue of rising crime in local communities.
Phyllis, a Palmdale resident who declined to give her last name, asked Garcia what, if anything, can be done to combat the rise in crime in both the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.
Garcia’s response was twofold: communities and municipalities need to support local law enforcement, and courts need to ensure that people suspected of crimes are judged according to the law.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón was called out in Garcia’s response for allowing suspected criminals to be let go, effectively enabling them to commit more crimes.
On his campaign website, Gascón states: “As Los Angeles District Attorney, I will make our neighborhoods safer, hold police accountable to the communities they serve, and reform our justice system so it works for everyone. I have reduced violent crime in every leadership position I’ve held while pioneering reforms to reduce racial disparities and end mass incarceration.”
Garcia said, “We need to fire Gascón,” and bring in more mental health resources to help people who may have no other choice but to resort to crime.
The other side of the issue is more help with law enforcement. According to Garcia, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department used to graduate at least 100 graduates per class, but that number has now dropped to about 15 per class.
Some of those graduates end up moving to other counties, Garcia said, due to the mistreatment that deputies face in communities and the overwhelming number of crimes being committed. More deputies, he said, would help keep individual deputies’ work hours down and ensure deputies are focused and ready to serve communities.
“They’re working about as many overtime hours as they do regular hours,” Garcia said.
Supporting Israel and Ukraine
On an international level, Garcia focused on the wars in Israel and Ukraine.
Calling Hamas a “known terrorist organization,” Garcia commended the Israeli government for responding to the attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7 and called for further support for “our strategic Israeli partners.”
“They were attacked and they have responded accordingly, and they have done what they have needed to do to make sure that Hamas is effectively eradicated,” Garcia said. “They’re not done. And in my opinion in the United States needs to be bending over backwards to make sure the nation of Israel is getting what it needs to prosecute this campaign against Hamas.”
Garcia touted a $14.2 billion aid package that was approved by the House in November that would see the Israeli Defense Force’s ammunition be replenished. He said it was an easy choice to support that package as the IDF was clear in what it needed to combat Hamas.
“These are clearly defined munitions lists that are desperately needed in order for Israel to execute a strategy,” Garcia said.
That is a stark contrast to Garcia’s conditional support for Ukraine in its war against Russia: While not saying he wants to defund U.S. support, he wants that “clearly defined list.” He said that President Joe Biden and other White House officials have “adopted effectively a blank check mentality that doesn’t clearly define the objectives.”
Garcia said he asked Biden for clear answers on what the strategies were and what munitions would be needed to help Ukraine defeat Russia, among other issues related to the war, but received a response that had “anemic answers.”
Not wanting to abandon the issue, Garcia laid out what he thinks would be a better strategy to not just finish the war, but ensure that Russia does not win. That includes “descoping” humanitarian aid and focusing on “what will actually win on the battlefield.”
“Rather than providing millions of blankets and band-aids that, frankly, they already have or are getting from other nations, we descope, we focus on the munitions, we taper down the government support,” Garcia said.
The Senate introduced a $111 billion national security package in December that included support for Ukraine and Israel. Senate Republicans voted along party lines to kill the bill, according to Reuters, as it did not provide enough funding for border security.
Garcia said he would rather see each issue be brought forth individually, rather than as a collective package that can see money be traded between issues.
“I am philosophically opposed to these things being traded,” he said.
Helping military families
As part of his plan to further protect the nation, Garcia was proud to talk about the passage of his two bills that raise the starting salary of enlisted troops in the U.S. military and allow their spouses to retain professional licenses across state lines.
The FY24 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December, includes an amendment by Garcia that secured the highest pay raise in American history for junior enlisted troops, according to a news release from his office. The amendment raises entry level pay from approximately $22,000 to over $31,000 per year.
“What this bill does is it gets the 30% (raise for) our active duty troops, our junior enlisted, who right now qualify for food stamps, which is unbelievable and heartbreaking,” Garcia said. “It gets them off of food stamps, gets them above the poverty line, it gets them to the equivalent of a minimum-wage starting salary.”
The Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act, signed into law last January, allows for spouses of military personnel who move due to deployment to keep professional licenses, such as for nurses or teachers, to use those licenses in their new state.
“Before my bill, you would have to get recertified and that can be, in many cases, a year-long process, several thousands of dollars,” Garcia said. “And when you’re only in your new place for two years, a lot of folks chose not to do that.”
Military medical care was also a subject that Garcia touched on. He described the current medical care system for veterans as “dysfunctional.”
Louise, who declined to provide her last name, asked Garcia if there could be a better way for veterans to get medical care if they don’t qualify for Medicare.
Garcia responded by saying that while the idea of the Veterans Affairs health care system is admirable, there simply is not a close enough location for his constituents for it to make sense. He said he is working on opening a “comprehensive community-based outpatient center” that the VA has committed to opening within a year. Garcia said this location would be in the Antelope Valley.