BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The Magnolia State may not be near the Mexico border, but a pair of its congressmen have a lot of say about who can and can’t cross it.
Both Congressman Bennie Thompson and Congressman Michael Guest have an important and unique role with the House Committee on Homeland Security. Thompson is serving his second term as the chairman of the entire committee, while Guest serves in the Border Security, Facilitation & Operations Subcommittee.
“I think it puts Mississippi in a very prominent role as we are dealing with issues, particularly right now,” Guest said.
The committee is charged with overseeing and passing bills for the third largest government agency, affecting organizations like FEMA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and TSA.
The agencies and the committee have been working around the clock, dealing with a spike in migrants heading to the U.S./Mexico border.
“We’re trying to master that challenge as fast as we can,” Thompson said.
In March alone, U.S. agents along the southern border carried out approximately 170,000 total apprehensions, which is a 70% increase from the previous month.
Nearly 19,000 migrant children are also in U.S. custody in convention centers, camps for oil workers and a military base. However, both congressmen said the issues are greater, due to the fact that emergency agents are already spread thin from natural disaster responses and COVID-19 plans nationwide.
“This is a bipartisan problem,” Guest said.
While both congressmen differ in political affiliation, they share similar urgency with the current immigration issues.
“The excitement and opportunity is here for people to try and come,” Thompson said. “But we still have to manage it. We have to know who they are, where they came from and get them placed.”
Guest had similar thoughts, focusing on caring for the children in American care.
“Now is the time for our nation to rally together and to secure our borders,” said Guest. “And to make sure those individual who have come into the country, that we are caring for those individuals.”
Both representatives also see the issues in harmful and racist rhetoric toward immigrant communities.
“We will be populated as a nation of immigrants and people of color. We ought to be promoting the ability for us to get along,” Thompson said.
They also stressed the importance of working together.
“Anytime that we have division, that we sit down across the table, that we try to talk those out,” Guest said.
While the congressmen find common ground on some issues, they stick to party lines for solutions to solve them. Thompson supports recent efforts from President Biden to reinstate DACA and push for a looser immigration process.
“With the Biden administration, we can work through this,” said Thompson. “I’m convinced that President Biden is correct, that we should give any individual who’s here illegally an opportunity and a pathway to citizenship.”
Meanwhile, Guest wants to see Trump administration policies, like the “Remain in Mexico” policy reinstated before any other changes.
“Once we gain control of the border, if there are going to then be conversations in Congress about some sort of comprehensive immigration reform,” said Guest. “That would be the time to have those talks, not now.”
Regardless of their parties and their differences, both lawmakers recognize the importance of their roles.
“It kind of highlights the importance that Mississippi and the Mississippi legislature play in our nation’s capitol,” Guest said.