BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Usually, the Texas border delegation in Washington votes in unison on major legislation.
However, that was not the case on a House supplemental funding bill – H.R. 5230 – that commits $694 million to border security and reduces the due process rights of immigrant children from Central America by modifying the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
The bill also opens all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border to Customs and Border Protection. The Republican-authored bill was passed on a 223-to-189 vote.
U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, and Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, voted against the measure while U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, voted for it.
A companion bill passed by Republicans in the House – H. R. 5272 – would prevent President Obama from expanding his deferred action program for undocumented children. It is otherwise known as the ‘No New DREAMers Act’ and was passed on a vote of 216-192 vote. All five Texas border congressmen voted against this measure. The Republican delegation from Texas voted for it.
Congressman Vela said he voted against the border supplemental funding bill because it strips due process rights from immigrant children to expedite their deportations while including $70 million to fund deployment of the National Guard to the Southern Border. Vela is against the use of the National Guard for border security. Also, he said that instead of including funds for economic assistance to Central America, the bill does the exact opposite—redirecting $40 million in foreign aid for repatriation assistance.
“I strongly oppose today’s legislation, which is woefully inadequate to address the surge of children entering our country and eviscerates the DACA Program,” Vela said, soon after the legislation was passed on Friday evening.
“Rather than addressing the root causes of this problem in Central America, this legislation funds the deployment of the National Guard along the Southern Border and reduces foreign aid. Instead of hastily passing this controversial legislation and then going on a month long recess, Congress needs to stay to address this issue thoroughly and work on a bill that truly addresses the root problems.”
Vela said Congress needs to pass a bill that provides the needed resources to address cartel activity in Central America, Mexico and across the U.S. He said he and his colleagues also need to provide support to Customs and Border Protection and the necessary tools, technology and funding to increase the number of agents and support personnel on the southern border. And, he said, Congress needs to pass a bill that funds the immigration court system to allow for speedier determinations pursuant to current law while protecting due process rights afforded to these children by the U.S. Constitution.
Vela also defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act, arguing that it protects immigrants brought as children to the U.S. from deportation by offering them temporary status so they may lawfully work in the U.S. He said H. R. 5272 puts DREAMers at risk of deportation and prevents them from being able to renew their work permits, or keep their driver’s licenses.
Congressman Gallego issued this statement following the passage of H.R. 5230:
“No effort was made to negotiate this bill with anyone other than dissident members of the majority. One does not negotiate solely with one’s self. Who does that? This is not a serious effort to solve a problem – this is just more of the political drama that the American people are so tired of.
“I’m willing to cancel my travel plans and commit to staying here until we can agree on a real solution to this crisis on our border and put out a bill that might actually have a shot at becoming law. We did it for the VA reform bill; we can and should do it for this.”
In explaining his “yes” vote on H.R. 5230, Congressman Cuellar said the bill gives state and local governments and law enforcement affected by the current border crisis the opportunity to apply for reimbursements.
“These communities have expended hard-earned taxpayer dollars in support of law enforcement and community efforts to address the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Our local governments understand that our federal law enforcement is stretched thin at this time and they have stepped up to provide resources and assist where they can. This funding will be very beneficial for the communities I represent along the Texas-Mexico border, which I why I fought to include this provision in the final version of the legislation,” Cuellar said.
“As part of the language, state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies within local units of government may apply for reimbursement of costs incurred for personnel, overtime, travel, costs related to combating illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and costs related to providing humanitarian relief to unaccompanied children and family units who have entered the United States.”
In explaining his voted against the border supplemental funding bill, Congressman Hinojosa pointed out that it fails to provide any resources for legal aid to unaccompanied children with legitimate refugee or asylum claims and does not authorize enough judges to adjudicate an extensive backlog of cases. He also said that two of the central issues that Democrats opposed were funding for sending National Guard troops to the Texas border and putting children refugees from Central America on fast track deportation plan.
“Their (the Republicans) bills do not offer enough funding to reimburse our communities, they do not provide due process for immigrant children fleeing the violence in Central America. This poses a particular danger to child victims of gang violence and human trafficking. Republicans are also pandering to Governor Rick Perry by voting to send him millions of dollars to militarize our border in the Rio Grande Valley.”
On the legislation to prevent expansion for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act, Hinojosa said it would make hundreds of thousands of DREAMers deportable.
“H. R. 5272 punishes hard working Dreamers and immigrants who are eager to contribute to America’s prosperity and have waited long enough for comprehensive immigration reform. This bill says to young people who have been granted deferred action, under DACA, that their time is up. It says that America–the only country that many of them have ever known–no longer wants them,” Hinojosa said.
In a Fact Sheet provided with his statement, Hinojosa pointed out that the funding provided in H.R. 5230 is offset by cuts elsewhere. The Fact Sheet states in part:
• The bill provides $405 million to the Department of Homeland Security to process and transport unaccompanied children – offset by an equal cut ($405 million) to prior year FEMA disaster relief funding provided in previous appropriations bills.
• The bill includes $197 million for HHS humanitarian efforts to provide shelter and other assistance to unaccompanied immigrant children in U.S. custody. This allocation is offset by rescinding $197 million from State Department Economic Support Funds.
• The bill provides $70 million for the Department of Defense to double the number of National Guard troops on the border including $35 million to reimburse Border States for their use of the Guard. This is offset by rescinding funds from the DOD working capital fund.
• The bill includes $22 million for the Department of Justice to hire temporary immigration judges and add video conferencing capabilities to immigration courtrooms. It includes no funding for legal representation services for children in immigration proceedings or to assist parents and guardians of children in the immigration system. This is allocation is offset by rescinding an equal amount ($22 million) from DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Fund.
Last week, Congressmen Hinojosa and Vela, along with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, met with elected officials and faith-based organizations from South Texas. Attendees at the meeting included the President of the Jesuit Conference Father Thomas H. Smolich, Executive Director of RGV Catholic Charities Sister Norma Pimentel, Texas State Representative Armando ‘Mando’ Martinez, City of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, City of Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, City of Pharr Mayor Leopoldo ‘Polo’ Palacios, Cameron County Commissioner David Garza, City of Edinburg Manager Ramiro Garza, Hidalgo County Chief Administrator Yolanda Chapa and attorneys Jaime Diez, Lisa Brodyaga, and Rene Ramirez.
Congressman Vela pointed out that none of the participants at the meeting expressed any support for reducing the due process rights of immigrant children, modifying the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, or deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.