McALLEN, RGV – The Fiscal Year 2016 government funding bill includes more than $897 million worth of support for Mexico and Central America, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has announced.

The Laredo Democrat had been pushing for this funding, along with U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

Cuellar said the omnibus bill includes $750 million in funding to implement the ‘United States Strategy for Engagement in Central America’ in support of the ‘Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle of Central America.’ The aim, he said, is to reduce undocumented immigration from Central America and bolster regional governance, prosperity, and security in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Earlier, Cuellar pointed out that in October and November of this year 10,588 undocumented unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the border, along with 12,505 family units. This was more than double the number in the same two months last year (5,129 and 4,577, respectively). He pointed out that generally, over the last few years, the number of apprehensions decreases after the summer. However, this year, he said, there has been a steady uptick in undocumented crossings.

Cuellar issued this statement about the funding plan:

“We continue to play defense on our goal line when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration. I’ve repeatedly said that to stop illegal immigration here at home, we must provide strategic investment abroad. To that end, the omnibus appropriations bill includes a significant investment in Central America to assist with the fight against those elements that are causing thousands of children and families to flee their homes.

“As I reported earlier this month, in October and November we saw double the number of unaccompanied minors and family units arrive at our southern border from Central America than we did at the same time last year. This puts us on track to see more illegal crossings of Central Americans than we did in 2014, when there were a staggering 68,541 unaccompanied children and families apprehended at the border. This influx has caused the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency tasked with caring for the unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, to request 6,400 temporary beds which costs will far exceed the standard $219 a child per day.

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a member representing our southern border, this is an issue of particular concern. Last summer I traveled with Kay Granger, Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, to Central America to see first-hand the situation facing these children and families and to discuss with the leaders of these countries ways in which the U.S. can provide support.

“I’d like to thank Chair Granger and Ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey, for their efforts on this issue and for including this $750 million to support the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle of Central America, as well as including $100 million to assist Mexico with international narcotics control and law enforcement which is intended to support border security along their southern border with Guatemala and Belize. Between October 2014 and April 2015, Mexico deported more than 92,000 Central Americans. This will help us take the fight against illegal immigration to the front lines, instead of continuing to play defense here at our border.

“Here at home, I’ve continually stated that if a migrant does make it into the United States, we must treat them humanely and we must treat these unaccompanied children as if they were our own. That is why I’ve supported increased transparency at our nation’s immigration detention facilities to ensure those apprehended are treated fairly and are provided appropriate nourishment and medical care. In addition, I’ve obtained 55 new federal immigration judges to help reduce the backlog of cases and reduce bottlenecks in dealing with the surge in illegal immigration.  Both of these provisions were included in the omnibus package.

“In addition to efforts to fight illegal immigration stemming from Central America, I’ve fought for increased funding and provisions to support economic development, educational opportunities, and law enforcement in Mexico and Central America.”

Cuellar went on to list these key points in the funding plan:

• Access to a $265 million pool for a microenterprise and microfinance program to promote economic development in Mexico and Central America.
• $39 million to Mexico under the Economic Support Fund designed to promote a civil and just society.
• An expansion of and increase to US-Mexico academic exchanges at the high school, college, and post graduate level.
• Encouraging educational and cultural exchange programs with Mexico and Central and South America to enhance cross cultural understanding.
• Establishment of a working group between the United States and Mexico to help facilitate and ease commerce across the border.
• Conducting a study on what standards or protocols are needed for passenger and freight high-speed rail between the United States and Mexico to increase tourism and commerce.
• Not less than $1.5 million for International Military Education and Training with Mexico.
• $100 million to Mexico for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement to promote safety and border security in Mexico.
• $7 million in foreign military grants to Mexico.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows U.S. Reps. Kay Granger and Henry Cuellar at a news conference on immigration held at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce offices in June, 2014.