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Rep. Juan Vargas On Possible Government Shutdown, Migrant Caravan

Rep. Juan Vargas spoke to KPBS before a luncheon with the National Albondigas Political Society's San Diego chapter, in the Gaslamp Quarter, Dec. 14th, 2018.
Nicholas McVicker
Rep. Juan Vargas spoke to KPBS before a luncheon with the National Albondigas Political Society's San Diego chapter, in the Gaslamp Quarter, Dec. 14th, 2018.
Rep. Juan Vargas On Possible Government Shutdown, Migrant Caravan
Rep. Juan Vargas On Possible Government Shutdown, Migrant Caravan GUEST: Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego

president Trump may be backing down from his promise to shut the government down over border wall funding. Today Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the White House is willing to work with Congress to avoid a shutdown. The shutdown deadline is this Friday and the sticking point has been that Democrats do not want to give the president five billion dollars for the border wall. One of the legislators closest to this controversy is Congressman Juan Vargas who's 50 first district includes the U.S. Mexico border. From San Diego through Imperial County from border wall to migrant asylum seekers. Democratic Congressman Vargas represents the region most in the headlines lately. I spoke with Congressman Vargas Monday afternoon. Here's that interview. Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say no to border wall funding but they're offering to spend one point three dollars billion for border security. Is that a compromise you can support. Well first of all the while I say hell no not only no. Hell no. But the one point three billion. You know there's a lot of infrastructure that we could build in the border area that actually would be positive for both safety is as well as expediting creep people across the border for example in Sandy Seadrill. You take a look at what we're doing there with the land port of entry. It makes it safer when you put in a lot of the infrastructure Zytec to see if there's drugs or people that are unauthorized crossing and we could spend it on things like that because that's where most the people cross frankly at the land ports of entry. So there is a way to spend money on the border that is in fact for safety as well as good for business and good for everybody. So do you support that one point three billion dollar package as it stands now for border security. Well I'm not totally in fact we're reviewing some of the items there because a lot of it seems to be frankly window dressing for Trump. I mean he wants to be able to say he's tough he's tough he's tough and so just giving him some money there. But I think it's basically a waste of money. So I'm not I'm not aligned with all the the amount and not via mail but some of the things they want to spend it on. Again there are good things that you can spend it on you know to make sure that drugs don't get across that unauthorized people don't get across. Put it in that infrastructure at the land ports of entry. That's the smartest thing to do. If there is a partial shutdown what kind of an impact could that have here in San Diego. Well as you know about half of the federal budget has already passed. So you would have basically about half of the impact. However since it's not the Department of Defense you still have all the spending that goes on with the military so we won't feel it as harshly as some other places because we continue to have huge federal spending because of all the military presence here but it's still be very very tough on people to be frank. And so no I I think it's something that would be terrible for those people that get implicated in the sense that they're not getting paid over Christmas which would be very very hard as well as some of the services they provide. Now do you think a continuing resolution is spending bill is more likely to prevent a shutdown and then maybe a larger deal would need to wait until January after the new Congress is sworn in. You know I think you're right the continuing resolution is a fancy way of basically saying the status quo although I guess that's a fancy way of saying things as they are but the reality is that everything has been negotiated. We could pass everything except for one particular bill that deals with the law. And yeah we'll fight that out later on but again I don't think that that's going to go anywhere. Under this Congress under the next that the Republicans themselves they will not pass this law. I don't think it's going to pass when we're in control in the next session. It's ridiculous. I think the president threw a tantrum didn't he kind of got to be frank he didn't understand what he was walking into and what he said well OK I'll take the blame and realize hey that's really a dumb position to take. I think it shows some of his sort of amateurish views of politics. But anyway I don't think we're going to shut down the government and I don't think he'll ever get that wall. Now Congressman Vargas have you been to the border since the members of the caravan arrived last month. Yes I have a couple of times. What did you find when you visited. Well you know it's interesting you know when you go to some of the shelters on the Mexican side you'll find that the Catholic Church continues to run the shelters that they've run for many years. But now instead of having 40 or 50 people now they have 140 people. One of the I want to run by the nuns. They have 140 people when they're set up for 40. I also went to the facility that they have now for the large caravan. And you know there's about 700 people there that are United Nations related or these other groups it's kind of interesting when you go in there because you see a lot of the people who are in the caravan. But you also see a whole lot of people there actually working with them that are officials it was almost like a a four to one in fact in one case. I talked to a young woman who was there to help with some of the kids but there were more people there to help with the kids than there were kids. So she went to another facility they had to help out with the nuns. They were getting overrun by children so I'd been there talk to them. And unfortunately many of them had the incorrect idea that they were able to and that they were going to be able to join this caravan freely kindly United States crossed the border again and be granted asylum just like that. And of course that wasn't true. They were told him basic lies. So anyway I felt bad for them because again they thought it was going to be very easy and of course it's not. Do you personally feel that these these waves these caravans of migrants from Central America coming to the U.S. have got to stop. Yes. These caravans are not good for the people that travel in them and it's not good for Mexico it's not good for anybody. And so yeah I am not in favor of these caravans. You know I've been able to talk to a lot of the people now and they feel that they were used some people that I going to be very easy. That being said I think everyone has a right if they feel they're threatened to apply for asylum and they should be given that opportunity. That's the law not only federal law that's international law but I don't think that these Caravan's work. I think it's very very hard on everybody specially the people in the caravan. I mean I talked to a number of them who said you know I wish I wouldn't have gotten involved in this but and many of of course have been disillusioned and gone home because they were promised a lot more than the reality is. So no I am not in favor and I don't think that they're good. I know that some people that I'm a pretty progressive Democrat who think that these things are a good idea. They're not. Now you're calling for an investigation into B's use of tear gas near San Ysidro against members of the caravan. CPV says it has used tear gas at the border 126 times since 2012. So my question is why are you calling for an investigation into this specific incident. Well actually I've never heard of it before I didn't know they used tear gas this is the first time that I became aware of it. And now that I knew that they did use it I said well that's not appropriate especially when there's children involved. There's no reason to gas kids. I mean there's absolutely no reason for that. There's better ways to work with Mexico to make sure that we coordinate security. I was in Mexico City was able to talk to both the new president briefly but with his administration trying to figure out how we can work together because what we saw on the border is something we shouldn't see again. I mean we shouldn't see our officers tear gassing children and their mothers. That's not right. I mean that's just not right. No one can support that. Have you received a response to your request. Not not yet. Not my understanding that we haven't received anything. I'm checking with my staff every day but so far nothing. You know Congressman I saw your tweet about the death of that 7 year old girl from dehydration while she was in Border Patrol custody in Texas. And it made me think What do you think you specifically as a representative of a border district can bring to the discussion about U.S. border policy. Well you know I'm also the father of two daughters and I have to say most of the Border Patrol agents that I've met are really good people and they have children too and I betcha they felt horrible that this happened but it should have never happened. I mean we have to have a better system to make sure that these children get the medical care they need. Oftentimes when they cross the border it's a harrowing experience that they've just gone through that is you have a child who has maybe traveled 50 60 miles through a desert through the mountains they're dehydrated or even a short period of time but they're cold. You know some of these mountain areas that they cross can go down to freezing temperatures. So we have to have a better system to make sure that little girls like that don't die. And I got to tell you again I I've been around the border my whole life. Most people have the very wrong very wrong view of Border Patrol agents and CBP agents all these people their parents too. And I'm sure that they feel as rotten as I do about seeing this poor little girl lose her life which shouldn't that shouldn't never happened. I've been speaking with Congressman Juan Vargas and Congressman thank you very much, Chris. Thank you.

The White House appears to be pulling back from a threat of a partial government shutdown over funding for President Trump's border wall.

Congressional Democrats have said they will not give the president $5 billion for the border wall. Instead, they countered with a $1.3 billion offer to pay for fencing and other border security measures.

But San Diego Congressman Juan Vargas, whose district stretches along the U.S.-Mexico border, said while he supports boosting funding for border infrastructure he does not entirely support the $1.3 billion offer.

RELATED: Here’s What Would Happen If The Government Shuts Down This Week

"They're just giving him some money that's basically a waste of money. I'm not in line with all the amount and some of the things they want to spend it on. There are good things you can spend it on to make sure that drugs don't get across, unauthorized people don't get across, put it into infrastructure at the land ports of entry, that's the smartest thing to do," Vargas said.

Rep. Vargas discusses on Midday Edition the impact a partial government shutdown could have.