I just was on a phone call with Henry, with people from his congressional district, police chiefs, NGOs, mayors, and it is pretty bad.
Congressman Cuellar has done everything he knows to do to try to get the nation’s attention to the problems facing the 28th Congressional District in Texas.
We are letting you down. The nation as a whole is letting you down. What is going on in your district is bad for the country. Only God knows what the illegal immigrants experience getting to our country. And the people who live in your district are literally under siege.
I am going to have Henry start this off by explaining the nature of the problem. I spent about 45 minutes listening to all aspects of the community in the 28th District. I will be going down there trying to help you fix a problem that affects everybody else in America because most of the people that come through your congressional district are sent to the interior of the United States. So it really is a problem for all of us.
But, finally, I just want to say, I have been here for quite a while now, since 1995. I have never known anybody who is willing to speak truth to the power better than you, Henry. We have a Democratic administration. I tried to work with President Trump. I had my dust-ups but you have done it in the right way. You have been respectful. But I want to be an ally in trying to get some relief to the people of your district.
To the members of the press that are here, thank you. This is a story that needs to be covered. If this was the 28th Congressional District, figuratively, the room would be full of folks from all over the world, unvaccinated. You would have a hard time moving around. I don’t think people can appreciate what is going on at the border until you listen to the people who live there. So we will do another phone call and we are going to stream this one. We are going to find a way so that if you are interested in what is going on at the border, you can hear from the people who live through it.
So, what have we come to conclude. Comprehensive immigration reform, in my view, is still very much needed. But, you can’t legalize people, in my opinion, until you first secure the border. I was involved in the Gang of Eight and before that with Senator Kennedy, McCain, Kyl and Salazar, in 2008, trying to secure the border, a pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrant population that are non-felons. Switching to a merit-based immigration system to help our economy going forward. I still believe that. But the one thing I know you can’t do is provide legal status without first fixing the border because it will create a run on the border like you have never seen before.
So, this idea of putting DACA in the infrastructure package is a terrible idea until you first fix the border. And I sponsored the DACA bill with Senator Durbin. I’ve told him, I am willing to work on a small deal, a medium deal or a large deal but the first deal is to bring relief and secure the border.
So, Henry and I have come to conclude it is now time for a new set of eyes on this problem. That the people in charge have had six months and it is getting worse. And I am not here to throw partisan stones today. But something has got to give, right? So we were talking yesterday. What could we do? Who do we trust? Who do we believe that could help us get out of this mess. And we both concluded, almost instantaneously, Jeh Johnson.
Jeh Johnson served with President Obama. He was a Democrat. I have a lot of respect for Jeh. He was general counsel at DoD and he dealt with these issues as secretary (of DHS). So, the bottom line for me is that we are urging President Biden to create a special position, to bring order to chaos, to put somebody in charge whose focus is just on the border and all the problems associated with it. That would have credibility in the eyes of Congress. And that is Jeh Johnson. I can promise you that most Republicans respect Jeh Johnson. And if Jeh would be willing to do it and if President Biden would be willing to nominate him, I think you would find solutions pretty quickly. So, that is what the letter is about. Something has got to give. A new set of eyes.
So, what is causing this? It was the police chief, I think, who said this third wave of illegal immigration is brought to you by Washington, D.C. The pull factors by policy changes, the new pull factors are too great for any money to the Northern Triangle to matter. I worked with Vice President Biden to put $750 million into the system to help the Northern Triangle countries with their rule of law issues, with their economy, with their corruption problems. I am willing to invest more. But the root cause of this wave of illegal immigration is not a deterioration in the last six months of the Northern Triangle. It is that we have changed our policies to where people all over the world believe now is the time to go to America illegally because once you get there you are going to stay.
Now, what did Jeh Johnson do on his watch. We had a wave of unaccompanied minors and families coming from Brazil to take advantage of the asylum program. Jeh Johnson got on a plane and flew back with these people to Brazil. He sent a signal to the source of the problem that this is not the way to enter the United States. We had 188,000 people come across last month. About 25 to 30 percent were not from the Northern Triangle. Every week that goes by, the word spreads throughout the world that the border is now open. If you can get one foot into the United States, likely you are not going to leave. So, what we are asking for is for the administration to put somebody new, a new set of eyes, in charge of this problem and working in a bipartisan way, to provide the resources and the policy changes to have a time out, so that we can catch our breath as a nation, give the people of Laredo and the surrounding areas some relief.
Now, what did I learn? I learned it is hell on earth right now in his district, given this problem. That the hospitals are full, that neighborhoods have hundreds of people everyday walking through the neighborhood, crossing our border illegally and it is very unnerving. That the police are overwhelmed. That the Covid numbers are increasing. That the Border Patrol is doing the best they can.
A shout out for the Border Patrol. I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan, I think 57 times. I have seen our men and women in the military in action under the most difficult circumstances imagined. I would put the Border Patrol and Customs’ agents who are dealing with this crisis on par with them. They are incredibly dedicated Americans and I don’t know how they go to work every day. What they see in terms of small children. The overwhelming nature of this problem. I just don’t know how they do it and I want them to know that Henry and I consider you all, and your families, American heroes.
So, I have sent three letters. One with Congressman Cuellar to President Biden to put a new set of eyes on the problem. Somebody we all trust, Jeh Johnson. I hope you will consider that, Mr. President. And I stand ready to work with Jeh and anybody else that has a rational plan for it.
Dr. Anthont Fauci
No. 2, I have written a letter to Dr. Fauci and I will give you a copy. I don’t know what we should be doing but I know this. I am vaccinated. I have tried to be a responsible citizen. If you are not vaccinated you need to get vaccinated because, I think, the risk to you and your family and the community goes down greatly. I think it is safe. And I think it is highly effective. How you control the Covid problem in America must include an analysis of the border. We have had 50,000 people released into the United States because the Border Patrol ran out of capability and capacity to hold them. They literally put them on buses and shipped them throughout the country. I dare say any of them were tested. I dare say that the system at the border is not controlling the problem associated with Covid coming from other countries. And Guatemala, the vaccination rate is less than one percent.
So, I have got a letter to Dr. Fauci. As you tell us what to do as a nation, you need to look at the situation at the border and give us an opinion as to whether or not it makes sense what we are doing. And let me tell you, I think its makes no sense. I have a German engineer who works for BMW in South Carolina. So, Germany invested heavily in the BMW plant in Greer, South Carolina. The man wants to go home to see, I think, his mother or father or somebody who is critically ill and I am having to move heaven and earth to get him legally able to go back to visit his mother in Germany. I can’t go to Canada. You can’t go to Europe because of Covid restrictions. But we are having 1.2 million people cross our border, being detained, with no rational policy at all. Probably the best thing for the German engineer is to go down to the border, get caught, we will probably send him into Germany. This just makes no sense. It is dangerous. It needs to stop. So, Dr. Fauci, you need to answer my letter as to whether or not you understand what is going on at the border and what changes we need to make, if any, to really deal with the Covid problem because I think the super spreader event of all super spreading events is at our southern border.
To Secretary Mayorkas, I wrote you a letter last week. Of the 1.2 million that came here illegally, how many of them have been tested? How many of them have been released to the United States? How many positives were there? And what system do you have in place to ensure testing? What happens if somebody comes up positive? And of the 1.2 million, how many have been allowed to stay in the United States? And what protocols do we have to deal with Covid?
To the NGO community in your district, they are American heroes on the same footing as the Border Patrol. The Catholic Charities and others are giving refuge to these folks. They are being overrun. And the system is literally broken. We are creating a national security nightmare for this country. It would be very easy for terrorists to integrate themselves in the flow of illegal immigration. Our border communities are under siege. The hospitals are full. The cops are having to do more than they can possibly do. And it is now time to define the problem and fix the problem. Count me in for investing in Northern Triangle countries as part of the solution. But the pull factors have to change. And I just want to thank Congressman Cuellar for having the guts to speak truth to power. To let the administration know what is going on, on the ground. And what is so sad for me is I had a man that said, Mask Up the Border. I mean, if you are really worried about who should be wearing a mask, you need to fix the border. This is a border completely porous and open when it comes to Covid. There are no protocols in place and the capability of the Border Patrol to manage the flow has just been lost. We have lost control of the border in your district. Do you agree with that?
(Cuellar: We have some big problems.)
Okay. I will say that. He says big problems. I say we lost control.
So, we will be glad to take questions. But here is what is so sad for me. If I had a news conference taking a shot at Donald Trump about anything, this room would be full. All of you, not all of you. A lot of you have masks. You are doing what you think is responsible for yourself and your neighbor. We are putting the people of the 28th congressional district at risk. We are putting their economy at risk. We are putting their health at risk. We are putting the future of their children at risk because we have lost control of this issue. Controlling our border and the Covid problem as it relates to illegal immigrant crossings. It is now time to work together, without… you can blame everybody for the last 20 years. You can blame me. You can blame Henry. We are trying.
But I am not looking backward. I am looking forward. And as I look forward I will end with this. The mayor of Laredo said, we are still pretty safe but I worry about where we are going to be as a community in the next six months. The police chief said, the problems I am having to deal with are beyond the resources (I have), but every passing day it gets worse. The Catholic Charities and other NGOs have said without some help we have reached the breaking point. So, I have listened to the people of the 28th Congressional District. Your congressman has been the most effective voice in all of Washington about trying to find a way forward. I join his cause. I stand ready to work with the Biden Administration, Democrats and Republicans, but I will not let this go without one hell of a fight.
Editor’s Note: The above commentary was made by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, at a news conference held in Washington, D.C., on Friday, July 30, 2021. Graham spoke at the news conference alongside U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the 28th Congressional District of Texas. The two had earlier held a conference call with community leaders from the congressman’s district. The conference call focused on asylum-seeking migrants being released into border communities by the Department of Homeland Security.
Editor’s Note: Click here to read the remarks of Congressman Cuellar.
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