EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez says he will hold the federal government accountable for “any adverse consequences” caused by the release of thousands of asylum seekers into the community.

More Central American families have been released with a notice to appear in court into Hidalgo County than any other county along the southern border in recent days. They have been released because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has insufficient detention space.

Unlike with the Arizona or California border, a border wall is irrelevant in preventing asylum seekers coming into South Texas because it is set back from the physical border, the Rio Grande River. Sometimes the border wall is a mile away from the river. All migrants have to do to start the asylum seeking process is step foot on American soil, which they can do if they cross the Rio Grande.

Judge Cortez issued this statement on the record numbers of asylum-seeking families released into his border community:

“Hidalgo County and our border communities are among the safest in the nation and we want to keep it that way.

“We are calling on the federal government to act responsibly along this nation’s southern border. Reckless rhetoric and irresponsible policy decisions have real impact on our communities.

“Over 2,000 asylum seekers have been released on our streets. We commend the tireless efforts of local CBP, ICE, DHS, and other law enforcement officials and call on the federal government to support these brave men and women by stopping unnecessary fear mongering and providing them the resources necessary to address this humanitarian crisis.

“Thus far, Hidalgo County, along with Catholic Charities, the City of McAllen, and others are trying to assist these families to the best of our ability.

“However, we fully expect to hold the federal government accountable for any adverse consequences of these releases.”

Close the Border

Cortez’s statement came soon after President Trump threatened to close parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. He said this would happen if Mexico does not do more to stop migrants crossing into the United States.

“If they don’t stop them, we are closing the border,” Trump told reporters at an event at Lake Okeechobee in Florida. “We will close it and keep it closed for a long time.”

“I’m not playing games,” he added.

Congressman Gonzalez’s response

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen denounced Trump’s comments. The McAllen Democrat said the Trump administration policies were a failure. Here is Gonzalez’s statement:

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

“Remember when President Trump enacted a zero tolerance policy that ripped apart thousands of migrant family units, failed to properly process detainees, and ignored the thousands of backlogged vacant DHS positions? I do. The thousands of separated children who cried while incarcerated do too. Remember when his Department of Homeland Security announced just last week that it would be releasing family units without a plan in order to create havoc and instill fear in people in South Texas? The Rio Grande Valley does.

“Since coming to Congress, I have voiced that the U.S. should work with our neighbors to the south to secure Mexico’s southern border. Threatening Mexico with a full border closure is just another rash decision, reflective of the President’s obsession with partisan talking points and campaign rallies.

“Now, instead of listening to repeated concerns about the lack of immigration judges, the need to put resources in place before enacting policies, and simply thinking before you act, the brilliant solution of our ‘stable genius’ President is to impede cross-border trade. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan’s announcement that CBP will be reassigning 750 officers from ports of entry across the border to assist Border Patrol with the care and custody of migrants is a monumental example of mismanagement. Why must our businesses and communities along the border always pay the price?

“By continuing to neglect the facts and failing to foresee the consequences of his policies, the President is a sycophant to his own disaster. Manufacturing a crisis is not fooling anyone and I see right through it. I will not allow President Trump and his Administration to send the 15th District of Texas and the U.S.-Mexico Border into chaos.”

Nielsen letter

On Thursday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen wrote to Congress asking for help on the southern border. 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

“I am writing to you with an urgent request,” Nielsen’s letter started. “For many months now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been tracking a surge in migrant arrivals at the U.S. southern border. It is the responsibility of DHS to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws, and provide appropriate humanitarian protections to those who need it. Indeed, Congress has explicitly directed DHS to take operational control of the southern border. But today I report to you that we are increasingly unable to uphold that responsibility given the emergency situation. We are grappling with a humanitarian and security catastrophe that is worsening by the day, and the Department has run out of capacity, despite extraordinary intra-Departmental and interagency efforts. I am especially concerned about the level of families and unaccompanied children arriving at our borders and in federal custody. Accordingly, DHS requests immediate Congressional assistance to stabilize the situation.”

Click here to read the full letter from Nielsen.

This week, Nielsen signed a pact with representatives of the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The countries agreed to work with the United States to combat human smuggling and trafficking, crack down on transnational criminals, and strengthen border security. Nielsen also met with senior officials from the government of Mexico to discuss ways to stem migration flows through Mexico. She said this would not stop individuals legitimately fleeing persecution from receiving appropriate humanitarian protection.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus response

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio, responded to to Nielsen’s letter.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro

“This Administration has acted in bad faith when it comes to immigration and asylum policies. The Department of Homeland Security policies have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border, and now Secretary Nielsen has put forth a list of proposals that will continue to hurt asylum seekers and deepen the crisis. These sweeping policy changes run contrary to our American values,” Castro said.

“The Hispanic Caucus has requested a meeting with Secretary Nielsen to seek answers for her Department’s actions that have sabotaged our ability to humanely process migrants at the border without causing irreparable trauma to thousands of families. We will not stand for the incarceration of immigrant families, the hasty deportation of children without due process, or the elimination of due process protections generally for migrants.

“As we move forward, we will hold the Trump Administration accountable and work to address this humanitarian crisis with sensible and just policies.”

Nielsen statement

On Friday, Nielsen followed up with the following statement:

“Today I report to the American people that we face a cascading crisis at our southern border. The system is in free fall. DHS is doing everything possible to respond to a growing humanitarian catastrophe while also securing our borders, but we have reached peak capacity and are now forced to pull from other missions to respond to the emergency.”

“Let me be clear: the volume of ‘vulnerable populations’ arriving is without precedent. This makes it far more difficult to care for them and to prioritize individuals legitimately fleeing persecution. In the past, the majority of migration flows were single adults who could move through our immigration system quickly and be returned to their home countries if they had no legal right to stay. Now we are seeing a flood of families and unaccompanied children, who—because of outdated laws and misguided court decisions—cannot receive efficient adjudication and, in most cases, will never be removed from the United States even if they are here unlawfully. The result is a massive ‘pull factor’ to our country.”

“My gravest concern is for children. They are arriving sicker than ever before and are exploited along the treacherous trek. Smugglers and traffickers know that our laws make it easier to enter and stay if you show up as a family. So they are using children as a ‘free ticket’ into America, and have in some cases even used kids multiple times—recycling them—to help more aliens get into the United States. Our border stations were not designed to hold young people for extended periods, yet this influx has forced thousands of them into facilities that are getting crowded and overwhelmed. This goes well beyond politics. We must come together to find a way to tackle the crisis and reduce the flows so children are not put at risk. Any system that encourages a parent to send their child alone on this terrible journey—where they are exploited, pawned, and recycled—is completely broken.”

“Moreover, our agents and officers at the border cannot fulfill their critical national security responsibilities while also attending to the influx of vulnerable populations. That is why, effective immediately, I am redirecting additional personnel and resources from across the Department to assist with the response, I have put out a call Department-wide for volunteers to provide support to our frontline agencies, and I am appealing to interagency partners for further assistance. But it will not be enough, so this week I notified Congress that DHS will need emergency legislative action to restore order, achieve operational control of our border, and ensure we can fulfill our humanitarian responsibilities effectively.”

“Make no mistake: Americans may feel effects from this emergency. As personnel are reallocated to join the crisis-response effort, there may be commercial delays, higher vehicle wait times at the border, and longer pedestrian lines. Despite these impacts, we cannot shirk our responsibility to the American people to do everything possible to secure our country while also upholding our humanitarian values.”