Rep. Leonard Lance was on a routine congressional tour of the Texas-Mexico border last week when the trip became a morbid reminder of the stakes involved in an immigration overhaul.
Along with Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., the New Jersey Republican discovered a dead body floating face down in the Rio Grande.
“I’ve never seen a dead body in a violent situation,” Lance told CQ Roll Call via phone Thursday. “It shocked me.”
The trio of lawmakers were riding on border patrol boats along the dividing river as part of the last leg of a three-day border security tour when the convoy spotted the lifeless body of a Honduran man believed to have been killed in the ongoing Mexican drug wars.
Lance was on one boat while McCaul and Yoder were on another. All the congressmen were wearing bulletproof vests, as the area they were patrolling was a “relatively dangerous region,” according to Lance.
“It was a vivid reminder that we have to secure our border and do it as quickly as possible,” Lance said Thursday.
Initially, Lance said he believed the body, which he described as wearing dark clothes and floating face down, could have been someone seeking residency in the United States.
The congressmen were later told the body was thought to have been the victim of drug violence.
“These drug cartels are despicable,” Lance said. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror because it’s the American people, some of whom are the demand side of this 'supply and demand' problem.”
Lance said the whole experience underscored the importance of passing immigration legislation, starting with Homeland Security Chairman McCaul’s border security bill.
McCaul’s bill would establish a number of border security metrics for officials to report to Congress on.
"In this sector, it's woefully inadequate," McCaul told The Associated Press. "This sector probably needs more resources than any on the U.S.-Mexico border."
McCaul organized the trip for the group, who saw the border along Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
"My colleagues and I saw firsthand the tragedies of this border and the loss of life when we saw a body floating just a few minutes ago on this river," McCaul told the AP last week. "And that is a sad fact of this border."