WESLACO, RGV – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has given his take on the decision by House Republicans last week to link President Obama’s executive actions on immigration to homeland security funding.
In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, the Laredo Democrat says he believes that, at the end of the day, there will be a “clean” homeland security bill, with the legislation shorn of “all the anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic language.” Thus, he predicted, there will not be a government shutdown.
“We should have had a just regular appropriations bill for homeland so we can fund the $39 billion dollars needed for Border Patrol, CBP, ICE, and the fight against terrorism,” Cuellar said. “But, the House Republicans decided to use the legislation as a vehicle to stop the immigration executive actionss of the president. But, not only did they go after the most recent executive action, that gives deferred action for immigrant parents, they also went after the first executive action, that gives deferred action for children. They went after the DREAMers.”
Cuellar made his comments while attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Taco Palenque restaurant in Weslaco.
Going after DREAMers – students who came to the U.S. as young children – could be a risky proposition politically because, as polls show, the group is popular with a majority of voters. On KURV Radio’s Drive Home show last week, conservative host Davis Rankin appeared to be speaking for many Republicans when he said he wished the House GOP leadership had left the DREAMers alone.
Asked how the House GOP’s attacks on Obama’s executive actions on immigration were being viewed in the Hispanic community, Cuellar said: “In the Hispanic community, these provisions in the bill are seen as anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant.”
Cuellar pointed out that for some of the amendments to the homeland security funding legislation, Republicans were voting with Democrats. “We actually had 26 Republicans voting ‘no’ on some of the Republican amendments. The bill itself, with the amendments in, passed with ten Republicans voting no.”
Cuellar then did a little bit of crystal ball-gazing.
“Now, the homeland security bill is going to go over to the Senate. The question in the Senate is can the Republicans get the support of six Democrats to get up the 60 mark? You have got to have 60 votes to pass the bill. That will be tough. I do not think they will be able to do it. Even if they pass it in the Senate the president is going to veto it and the question then is whether the Republicans have enough votes to override a veto. They will need 290 votes in the House. No way will that happen. They do not have the votes to override so for me all this is an exercise in political theater. It is something Republicans have to do for their base but at the end of the day I think we will get a clean bill that we can vote on.”
Cuellar said he thinks the Republican leadership knows exactly what is going on with the homeland security legislation.
“That is why they did not wait until the last week of February to have this vote – because they do not want to have a shutdown. Even Senator Cornyn has been good. He said a shutdown of the government on the homeland security bill is a non-starter. So, I think the Republican leadership, Cornyn, Boehner and the other folks are not going to shut the government and if they cannot get the votes the Republicans will have to come to the realization, you might have the majority but even with the majority you cannot get everything you want to. I think is one example where, before February 27, which is the deadline, we will have for an appropriation for homeland, we will have a bill without this controversial language.”
All the Republicans in the Texas delegation voted “yes” on the amendments to undo the President’s executive actionss on immigration. Asked if he had tried to reach out to his Republican colleagues in the Texas delegation, Cuellar said: “I did talk to them some and they basically know they have to go through this exercise and at the end we will be fine. Do they want to shut down homeland because of those two provisions? I do not think so.”
Cuellar sits on the appropriations subcommittee that worked on the homeland security bill. He said there were good things in the bill that deserved support – which is why he voted for it in committee.
“I sit on that subcommittee and it is hard to vote ‘no’ because we put in so much work into it. Once we take off the immigration amendments I think there will be some good things in it for the Valley, for the border.”
Cuellar then explained the two amendments he added to the bill.
“With this legislation, there will, for the first time, be a mechanism to reimburse states and local governments for the humanitarian care that they provide, such as what happened with the Central American children last summer. Right now, local governments get reimbursed for law enforcement but not for humanitarian care. So this will allow the local entities that put money towards humanitarian efforts to get reimbursed by FEMA,” Cuellar said.
“I also added language to provide professional training courses for CBP, the men and women in blue. As you know, there are too many complaints right now with the way CBP treats people coming across the border. I have always said, if they are a bad person you go after them but the majority of the people crossing are coming over to spend money. That training is going to be important.”
Cuellar said the groundwork on improving training for CBP officers has already started through meetings with all the port directors from Del Rio to Brownsville.
“We have already met with David Higgerson, the new director of field operations for the Laredo Field Office. In fact, we are looking at the second week of February to start off in Laredo with the Red Carpet initiative. Then, I want to do it in the Valley and other places. The Red Carpet initiative is the professional training I was talking about. The CBP managers now get it. But the people that work where the rubber meets the ground, those people that deal with crossers day-to-day, they are still a little rough with people. I am saying, do your job but you do not have to mistreat people as you are doing your job. The message we want to give the Mexicans is: we want to treat you better.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series on immigration. Part two, featuring Port Isabel DREAMer Julieta Paredes, will be posted on Monday, Jan. 19.