150412-cuellar_cruz 150412-cuellar_darling_garcia 150412-cuellar_darling_alvarez 150412-cuellar 150412-darling_2
Congressman Henry Cuellar discusses reimbursement funding for humanitarian efforts with Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council director Manuel Cruz.

McALLEN, RGV – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar used the run-up to the Summit of the Americas in Panama to push again for more U.S. foreign aid to Mexico and Central America.

“There are five countries that are part of what I call the $1 Billion Club – Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Afghanistan. They all get more than $1 billion a year from the U.S. Israel gets $3.1 billion a year. If you look at what Central America gets, what is it $50 million, less than $100 million combined. It is almost nothing for all those countries,” Cuellar said.

“If you put aside Plan Merida, where we have some more money in the pipeline, Mexico, one of our strongest allies and trading partners, gets very little. When we talk about our own neighbors, where we have a self-interest, where what is good for them should be good for us, less kids coming across, should be good for them, should be good for us, then members of Congress do not want to put the money in.”

Cuellar said the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, is visiting Washington, D.C., in a couple of weeks. He said he is setting up meetings so that Hernández can meet with members of the House Appropriations Committee. “We are hoping to put more money into Central America. Not, only for security but other things, to make things a little better in Central America, so kids would rather stay there and not be fearful of their lives.”

Cuellar added that foreign aid represents just one percent of the federal budget.

News coverage of the Summit of the Americas has been dominated by the historic meeting of President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. However, there are other issues in Central and South America that are of concern to the White House. The BBC has provided analysis on the current relationships the U.S. has with Latin American countries. Some are good, such as that with Mexico, and some are bad, such as those with Venezuela. Click here to read the analysis.

Cuellar made his remarks about investing in Central America during interviews with reporters inside and outside McAllen City Hall last Tuesday. The Laredo Democrat was there to announce that new legislation has passed in Congress that allows border communities to apply for reimbursement monies for costs associated with humanitarian care for undocumented immigrants. Cuellar and U.S. Senator John Cornyn worked together to insert the language for the reimbursement dollars into the Homeland Security funding bill.

Cuellar said FEMA has issued rules on what expenditures border communities can claim reimbursements for. He said allowable costs include food, water, hygiene products, medicine, medical supplies, temporary housing, transportation and temporary housing. Cuellar said churches can also apply for reimbursement funds.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was at the news conference with Cuellar. Darling pointed out that the City of McAllen and Hidalgo County spent $600,000 last year when they provided care for undocumented children and families that surged across the Mexican border last summer. Most of these children and families came from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many said they were fleeing violence in their home countries.

Darling said his city and Hidalgo County Commissioners Court did the right and moral thing in helping the immigrants that came from Central America. They were in need of food, clothing and a place to stay, he said. He said it is also right that the federal government reimburses border communities for their humanitarian efforts. However, Darling said it would be wrong to call it a crisis.

“We have gotten enough bad publicity with the National Guard, and calling it a crisis and all those things. I would rather call it a humanitarian effort than a crisis. Outside of going to the church and the bus station you did not know. It would be a misnomer to call it either a crisis or a disaster and it does not do us any good to do that,” Darling said.

Cuellar said the key thing now is making sure border communities access the reimbursement funds.

“The local COG (Council of Government) in the Valley is going to be crucial in getting this money. I would encourage the local cities to get with the COG so that they can access these funds. They are there for border communities but they have to go through the COG and the state of Texas,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“I want to make sure the border communities get the money. Since 2002, the State of Texas has received $1.3 billion for homeland security purposes. In Fiscal Year 2013, the State of Texas got $18.6 million, of which border COGs got $2.2 million. Everybody emphasizes border, border, border. Well, with these reimbursement dollars, here is an opportunity to help the border.”

Cuellar said he plans to talk to the Governor’s Office to make sure the reimbursement funds for humanitarian care reach border communities.” I will be involved in the conversations as border communities make those applications. We will be talking to the Governor’s Office about these new changes in the law. I think the Governor’s Office understands what happened here and it is only the right thing to do. We are talking about federal dollars, not state dollars. If we talk about the border, let’s take a comprehensive approach, not just National Guard, Border Patrol, border fence.”

Ana Garcia, Rio Grande Valley district director for Sen. Cornyn, was also at the news conference.

“I want to thank Congressman Cuellar for working in a bipartisanship way and I want to thank the City of McAllen, Catholic Charities and all those who came together during the humanitarian crisis to work together for the benefit of the communities and those who were crossing and coming into our communities and needing help,” Garcia said.