WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has praised freshman Congressman Filemon Vela for changing the tone in Washington, D.C. – away from building more border walls and towards realizing the true value of trade with Mexico.

Vela made national headlines recently when he quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in protest at U.S. Senate plans to hire 20,000 additional Border Patrol agents and complete 700 miles of border fencing. Since then support has waned for the “border surge” plans.

“I have got to say something about Filemon. Filemon, as the co-chair of the (Congressional) Border Caucus, has done a great job in leading the delegation to change the tone of the discussion,” said Cuellar, D-Laredo.

“Instead of talking about building 18-feet fences and putting 20,000 more Border Patrol (agents on the border), he has been able to change the focus, where we talk about the dynamics of the border – the business, the commerce.”

Freshman Congressman Filemon Vela is said to have changed the tone in Washington in favor of an appreciation of the importance of trade with Mexico.
Freshman Congressman Filemon Vela is said to have changed the tone in Washington in favor of an appreciation of the importance of trade with Mexico.

Cuellar made his remarks about Vela in this month’s video broadcast from Washington, D.C. The video also features Vela and focuses on the upcoming 8th Annual Border Health Conference, which is due to be held in Laredo on Aug. 23. Vela, like Cuellar, will speak at the conference.

“Every day there is more than $1.2 billion of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. When a product comes in from Canada it has less than four percent of American goods or products in it. But when something comes in from Mexico, 40 percent of that product is American product. So, there is a large interaction, connection between the U.S. and Mexico,” Cuellar said.

“This is why I have got to thank, publically, Filemon, who has done a heck of a job at helping change the focus of that.”

Turning to Vela on camera, Cuellar said: “I have got to say, you have done a heck of a job. I support you in your efforts.”

Responding to Cuellar’s praise, Vela said both he and Cuellar are products of the border, having both been born and raised on the U.S. side.

“We have family members who came from Mexico. I tell people in Washington that are not too familiar with our border that our border was never meant to be divided. It was meant to circulate. My mother may have been born in Harlingen, Texas, but she went to elementary school in Mexico and so many people have crossed over day by day and there is so much commerce going in between our cultures and there is so many familial relationships involved that the last thing we need is more fencing and more walls,” said Vela, D-Brownsville.

“We do not need to look like North Korea and South Korea, or East Berlin and West Berlin. Six million United States jobs depend on trade with Mexico. Hopefully the way that we have moved this dialogue will get people around the country to realize what an important role the U.S.-Mexico border plays in the United States economy.”

In the video, Cuellar announced that an additional 1,600 more Customs and Border Protection officers will most likely soon be deployed on the border, many of them on the South Texas border. The aim is to speed up the long wait times endured at the international ports of entry by truckers and travelers entering the U.S. from Mexico.

“That will be big news because in the past we have hired more men and women in green, which is Border Patrol. Nothing wrong in that – we support Border Patrol,” Cuellar said. “But, we haven’t done a good job in (hiring sufficient) CBP officers. We should put about 1,600 new CBP officers (on the border), to start off. I am hoping we can do more, that is the beginning. A lot of them will be going down to the South Texas area.”