McALLEN, June 22 - U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has welcomed the Obama Administration’s response to the recent spike in undocumented immigration in South Texas.
Tens of thousands of mothers and children, mainly from Central America, have been crossing the Rio Grande in recent months. Federal agencies have been struggling to cope. The new plan includes detaining more immigrants, speeding up their cases in immigration courts, and providing more funds for repatriation programs to countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Cuellar has been highly critical of the speed at which the White House has handled the situation but he now says the Administration is getting its act together.
“I am pleased to see that the Administration is finally taking some steps to address the crisis caused by the flood of undocumented immigrants and unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the Texas-Mexico border,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo.
Cuellar pointed out that many of the ideas the Administration is now putting into practice were proposals he offered in a letter sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Appropriations Committee last month.
Cuellar’s letter called for the establishment of a multi-agency “one stop shop” in the Rio Grande Valley. This shop would see the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice working jointly to ensure all elements of the adjudication and removal process are completed at a central location on the border.
Cuellar listed a series of policy changes the Administration has announced that he said reflects the commitment he shares. These are:
1) Manage the process of detaining, processing, and removing illegal immigrants and unaccompanied children as humanely as possible
2) Surge the capacity to remove family units more quickly and expand the use of ankle bracelets as forms of alternatives to detention
3) Reassign immigration judges and officers to the Rio Grande on an emergency basis to speed cases in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas
4) Offer assistance to Central America to expand repatriation and address the underlying causes of illegal immigration to the United States
5) Amplify the message that unaccompanied children and immigrants from Central American will not be allowed to remain in the United States as soon as they cross the border
Cuellar said he was also pleased Secretary Johnson traveled to the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where hundreds of undocumented immigrants are being warehoused and the Border Patrol detention facility in McAllen. The McAllen center is designed for no more than 400 immigrants. When Cuellar recently visited it there were almost 1,000 immigrants crammed inside. Cuellar said he has spoken to Johnson about the need to “fully assess the federal response to the crisis on the border” and is encouraged by the response.
As of June 18, there were over 3,100 unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Protection custody along the Southwest Border and over 1,800 in the Rio Grande Valley, Cuellar reported. He said the Department of Health and Human Services is currently housing over 7,800 unaccompanied children in facilities across the country.
Meanwhile, Legislative Media Services (LMS) is reporting that Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling will meet privately with Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Hidalgo County Health Department, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, Hidalgo County Emergency Management, Catholic Charities RGV, community leaders and elected officials at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce offices on Monday morning to discuss the spike in undocumented immigration. LMS says a news conference will follow at 10 a.m. at the chamber offices.
DPS is involved because Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have sanctioned $1.3 million a week for a border “surge.” In addition to funds for the surge, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa wants Gov. Rick Perry to appropriate emergency funding to local government authorities in the Valley under Section 401.062 of the Government Code. The McAllen Democrat wrote a letter to Perry on Friday. He said local governments and non-profits are being overwhelmed.
“Public, private and non-profit resources have been stretched to the limit by this crisis. Our local communities lack the funding and manpower to deal with this on-going humanitarian crisis,” Hinojosa wrote. “Our priority is public health and safety, in addition to providing assistance with distributing food, clean clothes, and basic medical supplies to the immigrants of this humanitarian crisis.”
One group paying close attention to the spike in undocumented immigration is the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party. Its president, Jim Barnes, said he was on a conference call on Saturday with conservative leaders, Tea Party chairs from across Texas, and Texas House and Senate members.
“A fact finding group of Texas representatives, one U.S. Representative from Texas, local party officials and interested citizens made a fact finding trip today to the Valley. They took pictures of illegals wading across the Rio Grande at the weir East of Anzalduas Park,” Barnes said.
“They also reported that 187,000 illegals had been apprehended this fiscal year in the Rio Grande Valley. It is estimated 240,000 will be apprehended by the end of the 2014 Fiscal Year.”
Barnes said his understanding of the situation is that drug cartels are heavily involved in the crossing of tens of thousands of immigrant women and children.
“The cartels are orchestrating large numbers of illegals to cross and, while the Border Patrol is busy handling the crowd, they sneak their loads through,” Barnes said. “DPS will fill the gaps and catch the drugs and other felonies. But, since they are not allowed to handle immigration issues, the DPS surge is not considered an immigration invasion solution.”
Barnes said state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, will be asking the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety to hold a committee meeting in Austin on July 1st on the issue of undocumented immigration. Fletcher, a former Houston police officer, is vice chair of this committee. The chair is state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. “As many interested citizens as possible should be prepared to testify. A call to Representative Joseph Pickett will help,” Barnes said.
Barnes said that by July 1 it will have been proven that the border security ‘surge” being conducted by DPS “didn’t help the situation.” Barnes said he and other Tea Party leaders want Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session on the issue of undocumented immigration. “We have a full-blown invasion on our hands,” Barnes said.