LAREDO, Texas – Congressman Henry Cuellar held a news conference at the Juárez–Lincoln International Bridge on Thursday to announce that delays in the movement of trucks at Laredo ports of entry have eased.
He also issued a news release on legislation he has co-authored to mitigate the flow of migrants by assessing refugee claims in their country of origin. And he issued a news release about the potential impact of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.
With regard to the trade agreement, Cuellar noted that a new report shows USMCA will create 176,000 new jobs. The report was released by the U.S. International Trade Commission and was requested by the Trade Promotion Authority. Click here to read the report.
“The report released by the ITC shows that USMCA will have a positive impact on a broad range of industries and on the U.S. economy,” Cuellar said. Specifically, the report states that the new trade agreement will increase economic activity by 0.35 percent and create 176,000 new jobs.”
Cuellar, D-Laredo, said it is essential Congress ratifies the trilateral trade agreement, “so that we may continue to capitalize on the economic benefits NAFTA has facilitated for over two decades.”
Cuellar said that as a representative of the border, “I know firsthand the impacts that this deal will have on border communities.” He urged Congress to approve USMCA “so that we are able to build on NAFTA’s successes, bringing certainty back to businesses in Texas and beyond.”
Flow of Migrants
The Border and Refugee Assistance Act of 2019 has been introduced by Cuellar and his two House colleagues from South Texas – U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen.
The bill seeks to mitigate the flow of migrants at the border and expand the processing of refugees within their country of origin. In a news release, the three representatives said the legislation directs U.S. agencies to expand in-country refugee processing centers within Northern Triangle countries.
Under the bill, family units and minors in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are eligible to apply for refugee protections within their country of origin, the congressmen said.
“By allowing migrants to safely claim asylum in their home countries, fewer asylum seekers will be forced to make perilous journeys to the southern border, decreasing the probability of being victimized and exploited by human traffickers,” Cuellar said.
“It will also diminish the backlog of cases pending in immigration courts by reducing the number of new cases and deter fraudulent asylum claims that prevent the timely protection for legitimate refugees fleeing dire and dangerous circumstances.”
Cuellar said border communities like his hometown of Laredo are “feeling the burden” of housing migrants that come to the U.S. to claim asylum.
“I thank Congressmen Vela and Gonzalez for working with me on this this legislation, which is a necessary step to address long-term ‘push’ factors such as widespread insecurity, fragile political and judicial systems, and high levels of poverty and unemployment that incentivize irregular migration to the U.S.”
Vela and Gonzalez also commented on the legislation.
Vela said: “This proposal aims to provide a safe and orderly process for assessing refugee claims while ensuring humanitarian protection for individuals fleeing violence. By allowing claims to be effectively processed within an individual’s country of origin, less people will be forced to make the dangerous journey to the border to present their claims. This proposal is just one piece of what needs to be a multifaceted response to the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle, including investments in improving security and governance in the region and investments in the United States’ own asylum, refugee, and immigration systems.”
Gonzalez said: “Congressman Vela and I have been together in our assertions that we must do more in the Northern Triangle to address the push factors of mass migration and provide relief to our communities. By adjudicating refugee claims in their own country, we can help prevent a costly and dangerous trek across thousands of miles, and at the same time reduce the impact that this traffic has along our borders. This is just one part of an overall solution that requires coordination, innovation, common sense, and a sustained investment of time, energy and resources.”
Return CBP officers to Border Ports of Entry
Cuellar, Vela and Gonzalez said they met recently with CBP Director David Higgerson and representatives from the trade community on addressing delays at border ports of entry.
“Two weeks ago, I expressed my concerns to Secretary McAleenan regarding the delays at border Ports of Entry,” Cuellar said. “Along with these concerns, I offered five realistic and sensible solutions that will maintain CBP’s ability to process trade and travel, while addressing the surge in migrants at our southern border. Shortly after our conversation, I spoke with CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez who assured me and other border members that he would consider my proposal in addressing the staffing levels at essential POEs.”
Cuellar said is essential that CBP Officers at border ports of entry remain at their assigned posts, facilitating the proper exchange of legitimate goods, services, and tourism moving between the U.S. and Mexico.
“I will continue to encourage senior officials in the Administration to address this issue quickly and bring these officers back to their normal roles. I would like thank Congressman Vela and Gonzalez, along with the office of Senator Cornyn, for participating in today’s meeting with the CBP Director and for working together to properly address the delays at the border.”
Congressman Gonzalez said it is “inexcusable” that the concerns, questions, and ideas of local officials, business owners, and citizens have “fallen on deaf ears.” He said border citizens, officials and business owners have made a “good faith effort” to adjust to the delays and traffic.
“Our local officials and business leaders have offered innovative solutions that merit serious consideration. I urge the Administration to continue on a consultative path and maintain an open line of communication between federal officials and the trade community for the good of our region and our country,” Gonzalez said.
Congressman Vela said: “Our Ports of Entry are the gateways to trade, tourism and travel. They are a catalyst for economic development in the Rio Grande Valley and in the United States of America. I spoke with CBP today to ask for more officers at ports of entry in my district and additional staffing for the maximization of commercial truck inspections. Our communities need immediate relief from the extended wait times at border crossings.”
Congressman Cuellar held his news conference at the Juárez–Lincoln International Bridge with Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz and Nuevo Laredo Mayor Enrique Rivas Cuellar. The news conference was streamed live on Facebook. Click here to watch it.
At the event, Congressman Cuellar said the Trump administration took 300 CBP officers from the Laredo sector to help Border Patrol in McAllen. “We got hit the hardest,” he said.
In total, 545 CBP officers were taken away from their regular work at ports of entry.
“They wanted to take 750. They took 545, 300 from this district, 194 from El Paso, and smaller amounts from New Mexico and Arizona,” Cuellar said.
Things have improved, however. Cuellar said that last weekend, the Laredo sector got 100 CBP officers back. Of these, 60 will be based in Laredo. “The World Trade Bridge and (the) Colombia (Bridge) are most back to normal. This weekend 125 members are coming back. That is 225 out of 545. We hope they return more in the future.”
Cuellar said he would like CBP to reintroduce overtime for customs officers. “If they can move money around for the wall, they can move money around for overtime,” he said.
He also said CBP should allow overtime for customs officers to be paid by the private sector. “t is a possibility, hope we can work this out,” he said.
Some of the processing of asylum seekers will soon be done by volunteers, Cuellar said. “They are coming down, by Monday, go to (Rio Grande) Valley. This will allow us to bring more people (CBP officers) back. Everybody has to share the pain and not let the Laredo sector carry 15 percent four personnel,” he said.
Cuellar also spoke about a homeland security appropriations bill where $58.7 million was added to allow for the hiring of 600 new CBP officers. These hirings should be done by the end of the year, he said.
In the coming weeks, Cuellar said Laredo officials will soon be announcing changes to the way trucks negotiate the World Trade Bridge. “We are excited about that. It should move things a lot faster. You are going to see movement at a faster pace,” he said.
Click here to read Congressman Cuellar’s talking points from the news conference.