As the digital divide in rural Texas grows, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (TX-25) has made closing the gap a top priority along with taking action on inflation and illegal immigration.
“In rural Texas, we don’t have high-speed, or broadband, internet,” said the Republican, whose congressional district includes Burnet County. “How many times have kids had to go to high points to get a good connection? Or, how many times have businesses had to look for better places to hold online meetings because they don’t have high-speed internet available?”
While the divide has existed for many years, it really became evident during COVID-19 shutdowns of businesses and schools, he pointed out, as people learned and worked from home.
In fact, Highland Lakes school districts had to enable buses with Wi-Fi and place them around cities so students without internet access at home could complete assignments.
As the country emerges from the pandemic, the need for broadband in underserved communities remains.
“We have to fix that,” Williams said. “That’s why I’ve introduced the Eliminate the Digital Divide Act. It creates $10 billion that can be extracted by the states to help expand broadband internet to areas that don’t yet have access to it.”
Williams emphasized that high-speed internet is a necessity, not a luxury, for schools and businesses.
“We’re in a worldwide economy now, not just a hometown economy,” he said. “So businesses need to be able to compete for customers on a wider scale, and high-speed internet is a big part of that.”
Unlike many issues in Congress, eliminating the digital divide has both Democratic and Republican support.
“It’s not that hard to fix. We just have to do it,” Williams said.
Williams also took issue with inflation, which hit 8.5 percent in March, the highest level since December 1981, when it was at 8.91 percent. The difference between those two marks is that it was trending downward in December 1981 from a high of 14.59 percent in April of the previous year. The current rate is part of an upward trend since November 2021.
Inflation is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers, which measures spending on housing, food and beverages, transportation, medical care, education and communication, recreation, apparel, and more.
Williams laid the issue at the feet of President Joe Biden.
“This administration is overregulating small businesses,” the congressman said. “We need to cut the regulations. We need to let small businesses breathe. We need to let Main Street compete and let consumers decide where to do business, not Washington.”
Williams also admonished the Biden administration over taxes, which he believes need to be cut to spur business growth and consumer spending.
Another issue that splits Republicans and Democrats is how to deal with illegal immigration. Stopping it hinges on securing the borders, especially between the United States and Mexico, Williams said.
Earlier this year, President Biden announced he was curtailing the use of Title 42, which rapidly expelled immigrants from the United States. In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency regulation that implemented Section 265 of U.S. Code: Title 42, which permitted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prohibit people from entering the country in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
Under Title 42, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, including the U.S. Border Patrol, could turn away people at the border who were trying to enter the United States.
Williams said the rule worked to not just curtail illegal border crossings but also dissuade people from even trying to cross.
Immigrant rights groups, however, contend the use of Title 42 denies people seeking asylum a chance to apply for it, which is guaranteed under U.S. law.
President Biden announced he was suspending the implementation of Title 42 starting May 23, drawing criticism from Williams and other lawmakers.
“The problem with (Title 42) is it’s a Trump idea that’s working, and Biden and the Democrats don’t like that,” he said.
With the suspension of Title 42, the country could face an influx of immigrations, Williams said. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for up to 18,000 people a day trying to cross the border once Title 42 is lifted. DHS officials said the number isn’t an estimate or even a projection, just a possibility.
Williams said the Biden administration doesn’t have a plan to address the increase in illegal immigration.
He joined other members of the Texas congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats, in signing a letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the DHS to retain Title 42.
Even Democrat Beto O’Rourke, a Texas gubernatorial candidate, has criticized the Biden administration for lifting Title 42 without a plan in place to address the expected increase in immigrants.
Mayorkas stated that the DHS is taking steps to address border crossings. He pointed out in an April 1 statement that the DHS will continue to expel single adults and families under Title 42 until May 23 and then will process individuals under Title 8, which is the standard procedure.
“We have put in place a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to manage any potential increase in the number of migrants encountered at our border,” Mayorkas stated. “We are increasing our capacity to process new arrivals, evaluate asylum requests, and quickly remove those who do not qualify for protection.”
The DHS is also redeploying more than 600 law enforcement officers to the border, he added.
The implementation of Title 42 isn’t the only Trump-era immigration policy at which the Biden administration has taken aim. In 2021, Biden tried to end Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” which required DHS personnel to direct certain immigrants attempting to enter the United States back to Mexico to wait as their asylum or other immigration request was processed.
Courts, however, ordered the Biden administration to continue the Remain in Mexico plan following a lawsuit brought by the states of Texas and Missouri. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the case on April 26.
Williams said he isn’t against immigration and pointed out that legal ways exist.
“We’re a country of laws, and we need to follow those laws,” he said. “That’s why we have ports of entry, where people can go, present themselves, and legally begin the process of getting asylum or getting into the country and realize the American dream.”