Rep. Duncan Hunter is mobbed by reporters and photographers before the luncheon. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Rep. Duncan Hunter charged Tuesday that Central American migrants are overwhelming the border and heading for “drug cartel homes” when they get in.

“There is a national emergency on the border,” said Hunter, who alleged the immigrants now seeking asylum are “family units that are being released to go to their drug cartel homes.”

Hunter, a Republican who is under indictment over alleged campaign financing fraud, said San Diego has largely avoided the crisis because of the existing border fence.

“San Diego has escaped what a lot of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are facing right now,” said Hunter.

His comments, which came during the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce‘s annual congressional luncheon, were in sharp contrast to the views of his Democratic colleagues.

“We certainly do not have a crisis of people coming across the border. In fact, the numbers are way down,” said Juan Vargas, who represents the 51st District that stretches along the border from San Diego to the Arizona state line.

All five members of the San Diego delegation — Hunter and Democrats Vargas, Susan Davis, Mike Levin and Scott Peters — were in attendance, with more than 400 community, business and political leaders in the audience at Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

The discussion grew heated at times over the border, the environment and America’s role in the world, with Hunter’s views frequently at odds with his Democrat colleagues.

“There’s four of you, just one of me,” said Hunter at one point. He missed last year’s event, but at earlier chamber luncheons his positions were often shared by former Rep. Darrell Issa, a fellow Republican who was succeeded by Levin in the 2018 election.

Climate change and the proposed Green New Deal was a major topic of discussion. The audience was asked to answer by texting whether they supported the idea, and nearly 60 percent did.

“Fake news is saying things exist in the Green New Deal that don’t,” said Levin, who argued that fighting climate change would spur development of new technology that “will be the greatest wealth creation opportunity in this generation.”

But Hunter countered that “the Green New Deal is a mandate on you.” He said government should stand back and let individuals and companies do what they want.

Frustration with President Trump came through repeatedly.

“We have a president who has not lived up to what I believe the President of the United States and the leader of the free world should be doing,” said Davis.

Peters said there has been a “withdrawal of American leadership” on the environment, trade and international security. “You see America not playing the role in the world that we should be playing,” he explained.

But Hunter said America’s allies haven’t been doing their part. “We’re taking them to dinner over and over again and they’re not paying,” he said.

Despite the partisanship in Washington, the five said they do work together on issues important to San Diego.

“We’re not talking about the crazy partisan stuff all the time,” said Levin.

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