Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP/File
Texas Rep. Colin Allred arrives at the US Capitol on April 20, 2023.
CNN  — 

Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, who’s challenging GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican-leaning state this fall, is promising to “fix the border” in a new ad, declaring that he “stood up to Joe Biden on the border.”

But just two years ago, the congressman dismissed the issue as one playing out in the “right-wing echo chamber,” despite a sharp increase of migrants at the US-Mexico border at the time.

Allred, a former NFL player and civil rights attorney who represents the northeast Dallas area, made his comments in February 2022 as the US was seeing a surge in migrants at the border compared with during the Trump administration – and even compared with the previous year under Biden, which smashed past records of encounters at the border.

Asked about Republicans running on the border – along with crime, inflation and “wokeism” in the 2022 midterms – Allred said he thought most voters were focused on inflation and the economy. “I think some of those others may fall into, kind of, the right-wing echo chamber,” Allred told CBS News’ Major Garrett on “The Takeout” podcast.

“I don’t hear a lot about the border here in Dallas, and I’m in a border state. Obviously, we want to have comprehensive immigration reform. We want to try and, you know, address some of these things,” Allred said.

“But it’s not – I don’t think it’s a top-of-mind issue,” he added, going on to say that he believed voters were still frustrated about Covid-19.

In February 2022, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded 166,010 encounters with migrants at the US-Mexico border, reflecting a significant increase from the 101,099 encounters in the same month the previous year – a rise of 64%.

That surge was part of a larger trend in 2022, which saw a then-record 2.4 million migrant encounters – a huge increase compared with during the Trump administration, which saw its highest annual total enforcement actions in fiscal year 2019 with 1.15 million. By comparison, fiscal year 2021, which covered part of Biden’s first year in office, saw 1.95 million total enforcement actions.

Though Allred dismissed the political importance of the border at the time, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from June 2021 found that 34% of Texas voters identified immigration and border security, combined, as the biggest concerns for the state (each at 17%) – ahead of Covid at just 5%.

Today, border issues are an even greater concern for Texas voters. A University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in April found a significant majority of Texas voters described migrants crossing the US-Mexico border as a crisis (48%) or a very serious problem but not a crisis (23%).

In his race to unseat Cruz, Allred is now spending at least $380,000 running an online ad exclusively dedicated to the border issue. Allred did not publicly announce the ad, as he has done for previous ads.

“I’m Colin Allred. Fentanyl is flooding into our country. Our border is broken, and so are our politics. To fix it, we have to go after the cartels and fix the border,” Allred says in the ad. “But we’ve got to do it in a way that upholds our values. Values passed down from my grandfather – a customs officer in Brownsville. I stood up to Joe Biden on the border and to extremists like Ted Cruz, who prefer chaos to real solutions. I’m Colin Allred. I’m running for Senate to fix this problem.”

The ad is running online, where Google ad transparency data shows that Allred has spent at least $280,000 promoting two versions of the spot that run 30 and 15 seconds – and have been shown more than 11 million times. On Facebook, Allred has spent more than $100,000 running the ad.

In a statement to CNN, Allred campaign spokesperson Josh Stewart said: “Since his first days in Congress, Congressman Allred has focused on bipartisan solutions to fix our broken immigration system and secure our border. During his 12 years in the Senate, Ted Cruz has shown that he only wants to play politics with the crisis at the border and that he will never be part of a bipartisan solution.”

A shift on the border

Allred – who was first elected to Congress in 2018 by flipping a GOP-held seat in the Dallas suburbs – has sought to toughen many of his stances on the border and immigration enforcement ahead of the statewide election in November.

He joined a Democratic-led border security task force this spring and said he supported the border security bill introduced earlier this year that was killed by Republicans.

That bill did not contain provisions for any undocumented immigrants, including a pathway to citizenship, which Allred has long pushed for, but he called it “a much-needed step” on immigration reform.

Allred has also shifted his rhetoric on a border wall popularized by Trump.

At a January 2018 town hall, when he was running to unseat GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, Allred pledged to personally tear down the wall if it was enacted instead of creating a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. “This idea that we’re going to trade this for a racist wall. Absolutely not. If they build that wall, I will be there tearing it down,” he said.

He would repeatedly refer to the border wall as “racist” and “wasteful, ineffective” and a “failed policy” that was not needed over the next few years, though he said in 2019 that physical barriers were “sometimes appropriate.”

Years later, in October 2023, after the Biden administration announced construction of new sections of the wall at the US-Mexico border, using funds already allocated during the Trump administration, Allred praised the decision.

“This is a necessary step to help Texas’ overwhelmed border communities deal with this current surge of migrants,” he told The Hill, adding that it was “only a partial solution.”