MISSION, RGV – Members of Congress representing the Texas-Mexico border region and South Texas have been participating in a series of votes to re-open various federal government agencies.
On Wednesday they voted for H.R.264, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, a bipartisan bill to reopen key federal agencies such as the Treasury Department, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and Subcommittees of Homeland Security and Defense. He said voting for the measure was a no-brainer.
“I voted to reopen key federal agencies so that employees, business owners, and hardworking Americans receive the paychecks they undeniably deserve. This bill, having received overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, ensures that all Americans receive their tax refunds on time,” Cuellar said.
“Today’s vote was not about the border wall— It was about making sure that the government provides vital resources to federal agencies and the people that depend on them. The American people deserve better. I urge the President to sign full-year appropriations, reopen the government, and put the country back on track.”
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, is a freshman congresswoman. She said she and her freshman colleagues took the view that compromise was needed at such a crucial time.
“What the House of Representatives did on a bipartisan basis is we passed the spending measures approved by the Republican senators. We compromised. We did not say we are going to rewrite these appropriations bills,” Escobar told K-Fox 14.
“For those of us who are brand new freshmen, we said look, we are going to honor and respect the work that Republicans on the Senate side did. There is support for that, we are going to approve that, we are going to compromise. We need the Senate to come through. I hope that they will.”
Asked about President Trump’s prime time speech to the American people, where he called for more border wall funding, Escobar said it was a little confusing.
“He tried to paint his approach as humanitarian and compassionate and turned around and tried to paint immigrants as criminals. We know that immigrants are not criminals and that, in fact, some of the safest cities in America, have high immigrant populations. El Paso is good example of that. A quarter of our population is made up of immigrants and we are one of the safest cities in America,” Escobar said.
“The struggle for me is that I don’t think he (Trump) has a true understanding of what is happening. What is happening is that they migrant population has changed. We are seeing different types of people coming across the border and that requires a different approach. His approach has been cruelty. Tear-gassing families, departing families, locking up children, sending the military to the border, that is not the approach. The chaos we have been seeing is what is creating the crisis.”
Escobar has been hosting visits of by members of Congress to see the detention of undocumented immigrants. She said what the lawmakers have seen reinforces the view that the Department of Homeland Security needs to do a better job responding to the changing types of migration.
“We need leaders at the top who know how to best use their resources and know how to best have their agents adjust,” Escobar said.
Asked about the death of two migrant children in the custody of Border Patrol, Escobar said it is best to reserve judgment until investigations have been completed. She said she supported the decision to have physicians stationed in detention facilities and believes DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen should have been moving more quickly to the requests of Border Patrol agents for more help. “This (the deaths of the migrant children) could/might have been prevented,” Escobar said.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, represents more of the southwest border than any other congressman. Asked about the government shutdown on MSNBC, Hurd said:
“If this is indeed a crisis the people dealing with the crisis should get paid.”
Hurd pointed out that there has been an 80 percent decrease in apprehensions at the border during the period 2000 to 2017. “Most of the illegal drugs coming into our country are coming through our ports of entry,” he said.
Rather than spend $5 billion on a border wall, Hurd said Congress should be spending border security on what he calls a “smart wall,” one utilizing technology. “We don’t have operational of our border. The way you do that is through 21st Century technology not a 4th Century solution.”
Hurd said if Americans want to have some physical barriers on the southwest border they should embrace the Secure Fence Act which calls for a handful of additional miles of fencing. “You can replace some of the existing fencing. You have 650 miles that was created under the Secure Fence Act. Everybody voted for that back in the day.”
Hurd said not enough attention was being given to the underlying reasons for undocumented immigration. He said the “root cause” was violence and lack of economic opportunities in the Norther Triangle countries of El Salvador., Guatemala and Honduras. He called for a modern version of the Marshall Plan for the Northern Triangle and legalizing the status of Dreamers.
“Put all those packages together and you can get north of the $5.6 billion. This is something all Republicans and Democrats can agree to,” Hurd said.
Hurd said Border Patrol has 2,000 positions it cannot fill. “They have retention issues,” he said, criticizing the fact that many Border Patrol agents have to pay for a move from one sector to another.
He added that Mexico is returning more migrants to the Northern Triangle than the United States is.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, made clear his views on the so-called “national emergency” at the southwest border in an interview with KURV Radio.
“We should be incorporating cutting edge technology when we talk about border security. We should not be talking about a brick and mortar wall, we should be talking about a virtual wall through aerostats, more cameras and sensors and boots on the ground. Right now we have 7,500 open slots in the Border Patrol that have not been filled,” Gonzalez said.
Asked which parts of the Valley President Trump should visit, Gonzalez urged him to spend more than a mere couple of hours in the region.
“Go to the river, go to the detention centers, find out what is going on, on the ground.
Go to the processing centers and detention centers. Find out why they (undocumented immigrants) are seeking asylum,” Gonzalez said.
“We do not have a crisis on the border. We have a crisis in three Central American countries that we have not addressed and we are still not addressing. We need to get to the root of the problem and implement incentives so people do not want to leave their home countries.”
Gonzalez added: “El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, we have ignored for decades. We need to get down there and help them secure the ground and bring foreign investment that creates jobs and incentives so they do not want to migrate.”
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Castro said he was hoping Trump, in his address to the nation, would discuss the death of two immigrant children while in the custody of Border Patrol.
And I didn’t hear anything about that. In fact, I didn’t hear anything about a way forward,” Castro said. “He seems determined to repeat kind of the worst chapters in American history. Trying to use the evils that are committed by a small number of individuals and generalize that to apply to everybody that’s part of that group. And unfortunately in American history, and really in world history, we’ve seen leaders and nations do that before with devastating effects.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus was founded in December 1976 as a means of voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.