01:34 - Source: CNN
Where border rhetoric meets reality
Washington CNN —  

After traveling to the hotbed of illegal immigration and drug trafficking, Republican Rep. Will Hurd is more convinced than ever that America doesn’t need a border wall.

“The $32 billion that would go into a border wall, I’m just even more convinced that it would be better spent with some of these existing programs, and we’d see a quicker decrease in drugs and illegal immigration,” Hurd said, referring to US initiatives to help Central America.

Hurd spoke with CNN after a three-day trip to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, three countries that drive most of the illegal immigration to the southern US border. In Central America, Hurd met with national security officials and community representatives.

A Texas lawmaker with the largest stretch of US-Mexico border of any congressional district, Hurd has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s promised border wall and the administration’s family separations at the border.

The moderate Republican’s seat is also one of the races Democrats are targeting aggressively in their hopes to flip control of the House. Hurd is facing a well-funded Democratic challenger, Gina Ortiz Jones, in a race that has already cost millions.

Trump has only doubled down on his hardline immigration policies headed into the midterms, including a border wall costing tens of billions of dollars. Though he and his base remain convinced that such aggressive policies are key to Republicans’ political success, Hurd has been a strong voice on the right for more moderate policies.

A former CIA officer, Hurd has authored bipartisan legislation that would support border security but focus more on technology and strategy than a physical wall.

Hurd said his trip focused primarily on two issues: drug trafficking and illegal immigration. He said his conversations left him convinced the Central American countries are interested in working with the US to do more to stop the flow of both, but that the US must invest more resources to do it.

And, he said, the US must stop pursuing strategies like family separations or spending on the border wall that would do little to stem the tide. Investment in expanding existing pilot programs to build up Central America would do much more, he said.

“I’ve been pretty clear that separating kids from their parents is a terrible idea, so we should not be going back to that,” Hurd said. “And we shouldn’t be looking at reducing foreign aid into Central America because many of these programs that we’re doing can be scaled and are addressing the root causes of illegal immigration.”

The congressman also disagreed with the Department of Homeland Security that would-be migrants need more effective messaging about US laws to deter them.

“(Family separation is) not working as a deterrent measure and the stats show that,” Hurd said. “Somebody from the hinterlands from Guatemala, a woman and her child who is getting beaten by her husband or threatened by a violent gang, I think that is a larger driver than some messaging campaign. There is no data that suggests that a root cause that drives illegal immigration is people not knowing that it’s illegal.”

He also said the countries’ officials are concerned that if the administration does in fact require hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were protected under Temporary Protected Status, which the administration is terminating, to return to Honduras and El Salvador, it could make the situations in those countries worse.

“How those countries can assimilate tens of thousands of new people is a definite concern and something they’re trying to figure out how the heck they do that,” Hurd said.

CNN’s David E. Wright contributed to this report.