Congressman and political opponent on opposite sides of border security issue

Rep. Tom Reed claimed political opponent Tracy Mitrano is downplaying a security crisis at the Mexico border, while Mitrano accuses Reed of failing to act on border security when he had the chance over five years ago.

On Tuesday, with President Donald Trump hours from a prime-time address over his crusade for a border wall with Mexico, reporters peppered Reed and Mitrano with questions during separate media calls. The Republican congressman and his Democratic opponent agree the partial government shutdown must end. But that’s all they see eye-to-eye on.

Reed, R-Corning, in November won re-election to a fifth term against Mitrano in the 23rd Congressional District. Mitrano is now campaigning for 2020. A cybersecurity expert, Mitrano lost to Reed with 45 percent of the vote. She said she wants to honor the nearly $2 million she raised in her 2018 campaign. She also wants to keep discussions going with constituents and offer a different viewpoint from Reed on issues that matter to people in the district — a swath of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier that covers 11 counties including Yates and part of Ontario.

When asked what he thinks about Mitrano campaigning for 2020, Reed dismissed it by saying “campaigning two years out from the election speaks for itself.” He countered Mitrano’s claims he acts “in lockstep” with Trump by calling her statements “baseless” and said he is “focused on substance.” Implying Mitrano doesn’t care about border security, Reed said if people “don’t think we have threats coming across the border they have not learned from 9/11.”

Mitrano said Reed is part of the problem and why immigration and border security have not already been addressed.

“In 2013, the Senate passed a reasonable enough bill for the House to begin working on these issues,” she said. “The House representatives refused to take it up and Mr. Reed was a key member of that group.”

In 2013, the U.S. Senate, with support from both Democrats and Republicans, passed a bill that addressed immigration reform and border security. In the Senate, a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” — four Republicans, four Democrats — produced the bill that was further toughened in negotiations with Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota. The bill won Senate approval, 68-32, easily clearing the requisite 60-vote supermajority hurdle. But the House, despite not having a single immigration bill, wouldn’t take it up and so, the bill was dead.

Reed, stating his objections at the time, said of the reform bill that it wouldn’t pass because it would give a “path to citizenship” for those who are in the U.S. illegally.

Mitrano on Tuesday criticized Reed for insisting that spending billions on a border wall with Mexico will significantly tighten national security.

“There is a role for a physical barrier,” she said. But she doesn’t believe the threat of terrorists coming across the border is any greater now than it was in 2013, when Reed rejected the bipartisan reform bill. Crossing the border is a least likely way terrorists choose, Mitrano added.

In January 2018, a joint report by the Homeland Security and Justice departments stated that Homeland Security had 2,554 "encounters" worldwide with people on a watch list who were trying to travel to the U.S. Of them, 2,170 were trying to come by air, with 335 by land and the rest by sea. Nothing ties them specifically to Mexico.

State Department reports on terrorism have expressed more concern about Canada, which unlike Mexico has been home to "violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida and their affiliates and adherents," as it said in 2017. When it comes to land crossings, Canada has more often been the source of terrorism suspects entering the U.S., though not in great numbers. By far the majority of people who arouse concern try to enter by air.

Reed said Tuesday there were seven known terrorists who came across the border since October 2018. He talked about children dying and the police officer killed near the southern border. “I do see a crisis,” said Reed.

On whether he thinks Trump should declare a national security emergency and order the wall without Congressional approval, Reed said he would rather see Congress approve it though “there is a good-faith argument to be made that the president has the authority.”