Cuellar: Mexico, Central America, are not on Obama Administration’s radar

McALLEN, RGV – Mexican leaders cannot believe the United States has not responded to its offer to help secure the southwest border and they wonder just how much commitment its neighbor to the north really has on the issue.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar made these observations in an interview with the Guardian outside a Border Patrol detention center in McAllen. Inside the facility, almost 1,000 undocumented immigrants were crammed into space that was designed for only 400. A majority of the immigrants were from Central America and many were unaccompanied minors.

Cuellar said he understands the frustration of Mexican officials and said that based on his own encounters with the Obama Administration over geo-politics in Latin America, Mexico’s concerns are not wide of the mark. He said he recalled challenging Secretary of State John Kerry over a proposed 49 percent cut in foreign aid to Mexico and was told, well, Mexico has got Carlos Slim. The inference being that reportedly the world’s richest man could pay for Mexico’s security plans.

“When I was at Los Pinos last week, the Mexican officials said President Peña Nieto gave President Obama a specific proposal to work on this northern border. They said, whatever money you put in, we will match it. They never heard back from the President,” Cuellar said. “Also, these proposals never trickled down to us. My perception of Mexico’s perception is that they were not happy. Their question was, ‘is the United States interested in us?’”

Los Pinos, in Mexico City, is the official residence of the president of the Republic of Mexico.

Cuellar said he was not impressed with Secretary Kerry’s response when he challenged proposals to cut foreign aid to Mexico by 49 percent.

“When I asked him to do more to help Mexico his response was, well they’ve got Carlos Slim. I think that is a very insensitive, crass remark. When I asked him why we were cutting 49 percent of the budget to Mexico he said my numbers were not right. A week later his staff got back to me and said, oh, yeah, we are cutting 49 percent but that our commitment to Mexico is 100 percent. I would say to Secretary Kerry and to the Administration that Mexico and Central America are not on their radar.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is interviewed by the New York Times' immigration reporter, Julia Preston, across from U.S. Border Patrol's McAllen detention facility.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is interviewed by the New York Times’ immigration reporter, Julia Preston, across from U.S. Border Patrol’s McAllen detention facility.

If the Obama Administration does ignore what is going on in Latin America, Cuellar said, it could find itself in a similar situation to the 1980s.

“We have got to assist those countries in Central America. The assistance they get from US Aid is almost nothing. There are so many countries that get assistance from us but our neighbors to the south do not get anything. We need to help them build up their economies,” Cuellar said.

“I think what is going to end up happening is what happened in the 1980s, when we did not pay attention to Central America and all of a sudden the Sandinistas were there. Ortega was there and all of a sudden we had to send arms over there. We have a tendency in this country to not pay attention to our friends to the south. We need to do a much better job.”

When it comes to border security, Cuellar said he would like to see the U.S. playing defense on the 20-yard line, not the one-yard line. In other words, it should do more to help Mexico secure its southern border. If this happened, fewer undocumented immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras would reach the United States, the Laredo Democrat argued.

“A month ago I was with President Peña Nieto. The U.S. has to help Mexico secure its southern border. If we do not do this we are going to continue playing defense on the one yard line. This is what we are doing now, playing defense on the one yard line, which is the U.S.-Mexico border. If we do not take it to the 20-yard line and work with Mexico on the southern border and also work with the Central Americans, we will continue to see this influx of immigrants. Do you realize we have 1,500 a day coming into this area and that is only the ones they catch? Imagine the ones they do not catch.”

Cuellar said the U.S. could do a lot more to help Mexico with technology and training on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. “We have got to help them train. Our Border Patrol knows how to secure the border. We have got a 2,000 mile border with Mexico. They only have about 600 or 800 miles. It is a smaller area to control,” he said.

Cuellar pointed out that 40 percent of all U.S. exports go to Latin America. “We do all this trade but we do not pay attention to them at all. I disagree with Secretary Kerry and the Administration on the proposed cuts in aid to Mexico. I am trying to stop that. We may have to make cuts but surely not by 49 percent. We also have to do a better job working with our friends to the south. Mexico wants to work with us.”

In an interview with News Talk 710 KURV on Thursday, Cuellar said if it was not for border congressmen and border media outlets focusing on the surge in undocumented immigration, the White House would have ignored the issue.

“All of us, you, I, have been putting on a lot of pressure. We have been talking about this. If it was not for all of us working together, it would have been kept under the rug. It would have been very quiet. They would have been releasing thousands of people in our bus stations. They would still have been giving those ‘notice to appear’ (forms). All of us, on our border, said, hey, tell us what the heck is happening here.”

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