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What Arizona's Mexico-born Republican congressman thinks of the border situation

Friday, March 29, 2024 Tucson, Arizona —Juan Ciscomani poses for a portrait at his offices in Tucson, Arizona on Friday, March 29, 2024. CREDIT: Ash Ponders for NPR MEArizona—
Ash Ponders
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Ash Ponders for NPR
Friday, March 29, 2024 Tucson, Arizona —Juan Ciscomani poses for a portrait at his offices in Tucson, Arizona on Friday, March 29, 2024. CREDIT: Ash Ponders for NPR MEArizona—

Updated May 10, 2024 at 11:25 AM ET

Juan Ciscomani made history in 2022, when he became the first naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico to represent Arizona in Congress.

He became a citizen in 2006 after moving to the U.S. with his family when he was 11 years old.

"I'm proud to be an immigrant," Ciscomani told NPR's Steve Inskeep during an interview with Morning Edition. "I'm proud of the journey that we traveled, to be here."

Ciscomani, a Republican, represents Arizona's 6th Congressional District. His district sits at the border between Mexico and the United States. The border, and the hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving there, many requesting asylum, is a key issue for his district.

Ciscomani said he speaks to people every day who have been frustrated by trying to get some form of legal status in the U.S. that isn't asylum and how long it takes.

"They're desperate because of how long it's taking, " Ciscomani said. "While the border seems to be or actually is wide open for people to just cross it illegally."

Here's what he had to say about Biden's border policies, his own beliefs about immigration, and why he stands with the Republican policies for fixing the crisis at the border.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

Steve Inskeep: When did you become a Republican?

Juan Ciscomani: The moment that I registered to vote at 26, that's the day that I signed the paperwork to become a Republican. I knew beforehand that I was conservative. I knew my values.

Inskeep: You're hardly the only Latino Republican there. Lots. But what do you make of the fact that most people of your background vote for Democrats?

Ciscomani: Well, you're right. It's a growing number. The first time that I interned on Capitol Hill, there were three Hispanic Republicans in Congress. Now there's now we have an organization of 18 of us that are Hispanic Republicans in the United States Congress. That number is growing. It should grow even more.

Friday, March 29, 2024 Tucson, Arizona —Juan Ciscomani poses for a portrait at his offices in Tucson, Arizona on Friday, March 29, 2024.
Ash Ponders / Ash Ponders for NPR
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Ash Ponders for NPR
Friday, March 29, 2024 Tucson, Arizona —Juan Ciscomani poses for a portrait at his offices in Tucson, Arizona on Friday, March 29, 2024.

What I'm seeing, though, is an acknowledgement that those policies aren't working for us. If you think about why people come here, if you ask my parents, it's like, hey, why did you make the move? They'll probably give you three main reasons. They'll say a better job for us, the parents, better education for the kids, and safe streets. That hasn't been the focus of many in the Democratic Party.

Inskeep: Immigration is one of the issues that are on people's minds in 2024. Do you assume that in your district, immigration policy will be decisive for at least some voters?

I'm not assuming. We know that for a fact. Wherever I go, this is the issue that's on top of people's minds. And it wasn't always the case. Even though we're a border district, a border state and immigration and border security has always been of interest and a priority for my district, It wasn't always top. You know, you have other issues. Obviously, the economy, you have education, many other issues that are still important. But with the rise of the crisis and what's happening, it's just become a reality for people that are now impacting their daily lives. Issues like street releases of migrants wasn't something that kept people up at night a few years ago. Now, if you talk to county officials, that is the issue. And having funding for that and and making sure that that we don't have 1000 releases a day is what keeps them up.

Inskeep: As you probably know, there are a number of Republicans and people on the right who will offer a theory that Democrats are encouraging immigration, including illegal immigration, because they want them to become voters for them someday. Do you believe that?

You know the reasons why the Democrats have allowed this and why Joe Biden has allowed this? I can't answer that. I wish I could because it's so mind boggling to me why someone would allow this. Initially, you could think that it's incompetence, but honestly, that claim can only go so far. You can be this incompetent to not realize what's happening. This is an election year and even in an election year when President Biden is facing the lowest approval numbers ever and border security and immigration is the number one issue, that issue has failed at the hands of Democrats. He's still not doing anything about it.

It's unprecedented what has happened. Even Barack Obama at least pretended to care about border security. We thought President Obama was lagging on the enforcement side until, of course, came Biden. And he showed what really not caring about the border looks like. So the reasons and the theories and the speculations can be out there, but you just got to see where they're going. They're going to states where people are leaving those states like, you know, California or Illinois or New York. That's where the majority of these migrants ended up landing. Which is bad for the communities there, but it's bad for the country overall.

Inskeep: Trump has even connected immigrants in this country to his election difficulties. He had a theory that he lost the popular vote in 2016 because illegal immigrants voted no evidence of that whatsoever. Is he scapegoating immigrants?

Copyright 2024 NPR

Mansee Khurana
[Copyright 2024 NPR]