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Last Updated: 2 June 2014
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Cuellar: We need to act now to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along border

By Luis Montoya
[U.S.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is pictured at a news conference at the Anzalduas International Bridge last December. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

LAREDO, June 2 - U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar on Monday called for the establishment of a multi-agency processing center on the border to deal with a recent influx of immigrant apprehensions.

In a letter sent to the chairs and ranking members of various House committees, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Cuellar pointed out that since the beginning of this year over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector.

This is more than a 65 percent increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013. If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014, Cuellar wrote, in his letter.

Cuellar said the Valley is currently at more than 190 percent of its temporary detention capacity. “We need to do a better job taking care of the children who are crossing the southern border unaccompanied and we must act immediately to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along the border,” Cuellar, D-Laredo, wrote.

Cuellar sent a letter on the same day President Obama President Obama held a news conference at the White House to say there is an "urgent humanitarian situation" at the border. Obama referenced a surge of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing into the United States from Mexico.

According to Kids in Need of Defense, a group that advocates for immigrant children and provides legal services during deportation proceedings, as many as 150,000 unaccompanied children could cross into the United States next. In fiscal year 2012 that number was 13,625, the group says. It rose to 24,668 in 2013. The government predicts as many as 60,000 children could enter the U.S. unaccompanied in 2014. Border Patrol cannot keep the children form more than 72 hours and so the numbers are overwhelming the agencies charged with catering for the children.

Obama said he was placing Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate in charge of a group that will coordinate services among many federal agencies in order to better assist the minors apprehended at the border.

The Office of Management and Budget says it will cost $2.28 billion next year to deal with minors caught at the southern border. This is more than the $868 million requested by the Obama Administration in March. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged cooperation between the United States, Mexico and several Central American countries on the issue of migrant children.

Cuellar’s letter was sent to U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking member of the same committee. It was also sent to U.S. Rep. John Carter, chairman of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and U.S. Rep. David Price, ranking member of the same committee.

Cuellar’s letter was sent also to U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, ranking member of the same committee. It was also sent to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking member of the same committee.

Here is Cuellar’s letter in full:

June 2, 2014

In recent weeks, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has experienced an unprecedented influx of undocumented immigrant apprehensions and detentions, many of which are unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico. These crossings have created a resource crisis in the Rio Grande Valley that demands immediate attention from the federal government and the Appropriations Committee.

Since the beginning of this year, over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector, a more than 65 percent increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013. If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014. On average, over 70 percent of apprehensions are Other Than Mexicans (OTM) and a large percentage of them are Unaccompanied Children (UAC). Currently, the Rio Grande Valley is apprehending approximately 300 UACs on a daily basis.

I represent much of this area in the 28th District of Texas, which stretches from San Antonio in the north to Laredo and the much of the upper Rio Grande Valley. I have had extensive personal conversations with the men and women of Border Patrol in the past few weeks about this ongoing issue and they have laid out the issues straining the resources and personnel of Border Patrol.

Every undocumented immigrant that is apprehended while attempting to cross the border must be processed by Border Patrol. With this unprecedented surge in crossings, the Rio Grande Valley is currently at more than 190 percent of its temporary detention capacity. Those that are detained are then transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many others are released with a notice to appear before an immigration judge at a future date.

This resource crisis requires a multi-agency response involving the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice. Because of the massive influx of immigrants being apprehended at the border, it is necessary to create a central location in which all elements of the adjudication process can be completed.

We need to do a better job taking care of the children who are crossing the southern border unaccompanied and we must act immediately to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along the border. I am committed to working with Chairwoman Kay Granger, Ranking Member David Price, and the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee to work with our partners in Mexico and other Central American countries.

Thank you for your consideration. If you require further information, do not hesitate to contact me, my legislative director Megan Swearingen, or my legislative assistant Wendell White at 225-1640.

Sincerely,

Henry Cuellar, PhD

U.S. Congressman

Texas District 28


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