RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar is looking forward to being able to tell border wall construction companies to pack their bags and go home.
The Laredo Democrat believes contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in South Texas will soon be given their marching orders – just as soon as the Biden Administration takes office.
Cuellar noted that President-elect Biden was strongly opposed to the border wall during the 2020 election campaign.
“I am going to ask President Biden, as soon as he comes in, to give instructions to the Department of Justice to stop all the condemnation suits; to give instructions to the Army Corps of Engineers to tell the contractors, goodbye,” Cuellar said, at a recent town hall meeting in Mission.
Cuellar said the contractors will be given what is called a termination of convenience. He said the federal government hands them out all the time.
“Depending on how far the contractors have got, we will get the government to pay them for services, for materials and maybe a percentage of the profit and then say, you know, pack up and go home.”
Cuellar spoke about his opposition to the border wall at three recent town hall meetings in the Rio Grande Valley – one in Rio Grande City, one in La Joya, and one in Mission. The town hall meetings were part of Cuellar’s victory lap tour of his congressional district. He said the idea was to say “thank you” to voters for re-electing him.
At the town hall meeting in Rio Grande City, Cuellar heard from local landowners opposed to the border wall. Much of their anger was directed at the Army Corps of Engineers. People like Sam Vale and Fred Margo said the government agency was arrogant and condescending.
Cuellar said he agreed. He pointed out he would not speak to them when they visited his Washington, D.C., office. “For four years, I did not talk to those folks. Not because of the border wall but because they are very expensive and very slow. Now, with the wall, they are moving faster.”
Cuellar said the Army Corps of Engineers is moving fast to complete as many miles of border fencing as possible, before President Trump leaves office. Asked at the Mission town hall meeting if the Army Corps of Engineers is a rogue agency, Cuellar said: “They are not a rogue agency, they are just following the president’s instructions. They are just trying to rush the building of the wall.”
The conversation about the border wall was more in-depth at the town hall meeting in Rio Grande City. At the event, landowner Vale said he was not opposed to border security, just the border wall.
“You can get a lot of high tech equipment in there, cameras, towers, everyone will cooperate on that. We always have. We have grown up with Border Patrol,” Vale said.
Margo, the landowner, said he doubts the border wall built under the Trump Administration will last very long.
“What happened to the portion of the wall that was built under the Bush administration? It is falling apart because it is no longer priority. That is what happens to these kinds of things. It is a hot button issue, then another administration comes in and it is no longer a priority. That is what is going to happen to this new wall.”
Vale reiterated that he supports border security.
“Nobody likes to have a bunch of people running across their land when you have ladies and families and young children out there. We do need protections but we don’t need this wall. We do not need decisions that look good for an election.”
“We have a wildlife refuge right next door to us. They (drug runners and undocumented immigrants) are going to come through the wildlife refuge so what is the point of the wall? They (the Army Corps of Engineers) cannot give you an answer.”
Cuellar said he, too, supported border security. Just not a border wall.
“I do not want to send the wrong message to the Biden people. We are saying no to the fence, but that does not mean we are weak on border security. I want to make sure our border security is strong. I want to make sure that Border Patrol, CBP, and other folks have their equipment, the technology. Put more money in technology.”
Cuellar said he has a good relationship with Border Patrol. “We agree on everything except for the wall part of it.”
Cuellar noted that opposition to the border wall is slightly different in Hidalgo County to Starr County. He said in Hidalgo County, some residents are opposed to border security, period.
“In Hidalgo County things are a little different. Some people are little more vocal. They do not want anything. They want me to stop technology or those underground censors. I am not for that, guys. I will stop the wall but we have got to look at technology, underground sensors, drones, cameras, better equipment for Border Patrol. Those things I support.”
Cuellar said underground sensors are good because they can detect if movement is being made by deer rather than a person. “The military uses that. We have got to use technology,” he said.
Cuellar also spoke about some of the things he wants to introduce in the next Congress dealing with border wall legislation.
“I am looking short-term: let’s stop construction of the fence. The other thing I am doing is looking long-term. I want to stop construction of the border wall where there are historical designations.”
“I am hoping the Senate is ‘Blue.’ If not it might make things a little bit harder. You cannot build the border wall around cemeteries. I want to see historical designations added, which would cover Roma, San Ignacio. It would cover the Azteca area in Laredo. It would cover Fort MacIntosh, which is Laredo College. I want to have this long-term.”
Vale said if restrictions were in place around historical designations, the land around Fort Ringgold in Rio Grande City would be protected.
Cuellar said he also wants to see legislation amended so that environmentally sensitive areas are protected from border wall construction.
“Some of it, I think I can get in, some of it I think the Senate will fight us but let’s see. This waiver on environmental laws. That got passed in 2005 as part of the Real ID Act. That was in the shadows of 9/11. Nobody expected a Trump to come in and start manipulating and using those waivers because he wants to build a wall. I want to change that.”
Cuellar said it is funny how minds change when it comes to building a border wall.
“Look the records. Look at the 2006 wall. I voted no. A lot of Democrats voted yes and it passed the House. It went over to the Senate. Senator Hillary Clinton voted yes, Senator Barack Obama voted yes. Senator Dick Durbin voted yes. Senator Chuck Schumer voted yes. Senator Joe Biden voted yes. But he is now a ‘no,’ which is good. Minds change over a period of time.”
Cuellar said he has been accused by some of supporting the border wall. Not true, he told those at the Rio Grande City town hall meeting.
“I got accused of supporting the wall because I voted to open up the government. But that is politics. People lie. I am for opening up the government but any direct votes I have always been no (on the border wall).”
Cuellar said his conversations with Border Patrol are sometimes comical. He said when he asked about animals being trapped on the Mexican side of the border wall, a former Border Patrol chief said landowners would be provided with clickers for the gates.
“But you are not going to give them to the cows are you?” Cuellar told him. “The Border Patrol chief responded, ‘the ranchers are going to get the codes.’ He said, ‘Henry, I have seen mountain lions climb the wall.’ I said, maybe a mountain lion but I have never seen a cow. The answers that were given me were amazing.”
Cuellar added: “I have all the due respect (for Border Patrol) but they are on a mission.”
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