EDINBURG, RGV – U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa has blasted fellow border congressman Henry Cuellar over legislation to speed up the removal from the U.S. of undocumented children from Central America.

At a news conference at his Edinburg district office, the Mercedes Democrat accused the Laredo Democrat of grandstanding for the national media. He also said Cuellar does not speak for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) when calling for the overhaul of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008.

Cuellar’s office says the “Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act,” is designed to reform current law and solve the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the southwest border. It is expected to be introduced jointly by Cuellar and U.S. John Cornyn, R-Texas, this week.

In a news release, Cuellar’s office said the HUMANE Act would:

Ø Improve the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 by treating all unaccompanied minors equally.

Ø Ensure Due Process under the law and work to repatriate and reintegrate unaccompanied children into their home countries in a timely, safe and fair manner.

Ø Require humane facilities and alleviate overcrowded DHS and HHS facilities and local entities that have been disproportionately impacted.

Ø Deter future children in Central America from making this treacherous journey to U.S.

Cuellar’s press office said Friday that it would be in touch with reporters soon with further details on the legislation.

Cuellar appeared on News Talk 710 KURV last week. He was asked if the deportation of unaccompanied children from Central America might be mired in a legal quagmire for years, thanks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008.

Cuellar responded: “Under the law we have got to have those (immigration) judges. I have been calling to have those judges down at the border. We have got to give the Border Patrol the authority to expedite folks back to their countries, just like we do with Mexico. If somebody asks for asylum or credible fear or they are human trafficking judges, then you have got to have those judges. The problem is they are so backlogged. Sometimes it takes them two years to hear the cases and even if you get an order for removal, ICE is going to put priority on criminals. And so if you are somebody who has an order to be deported but you do not have a criminal record you get to stay here. You get a free pass.”

U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, held a news conference at his Edinburg district office on Saturday. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, held a news conference at his Edinburg district office on Saturday. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

Hinojosa called his news conference to announce the CHC would be meeting President Obama on July 23 or 24 to discuss immigration reform and the surge in arrivals on the southwest border of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Hinojosa chairs the CHC.

Hinojosa said Border Patrol has apprehended 52,000 minors from Central America since last October. He called them “refugees.”

Asked by a reporter about Cuellar’s HUMANE Act legislation, Hinojosa gave a lengthy response, inferring that it was, in fact, inhumane.

Hinojosa said:

“It is my personal opinion and I speak for myself only that that is rhetoric to get some type of national attention and name recognition.

“We are finding solutions to this humanitarian crisis and I can tell you I have been involved in this critical issue for a long time. From the very beginning I demanded that DHS give us a complete situation and give us why we have such overcrowded conditions at the CBP facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, and particularly in McAllen and Brownsville.

“As the CHC chairman, I had a meeting with the ambassadors of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico to learn the route and why people are fleeing their countries and what needs to be done to turn things around. I have called a meeting with President Obama to discuss the details and the solutions given to us by those ambassadors and their staff and how we can deal with the influx of refugees to our country, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley. At that meeting with the President we will be discussing that.

“Mr. Cuellar is a congressman elected by the people of his congressional district but I can assure you he does not speak for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is united together with other members of the Black Caucus and the Asian American Caucus, which makes almost 100 members of Congress who want to protect the children.

“How can the Republicans, including Senator Cornyn and, in this case a Democrat like Cuellar, be wanting to change the (2008) law that was passed by them, when they said it was okay to protect them (unaccompanied children). And, now by changing them, they can throw them back across the Rio Grande River and let them find their way back to the sending countries in Central America. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t square. It is not what our country has been built on and that is, it was built up by immigrants, over hundreds of thousands of years.

“So, we are determined to bring together coalitions throughout the whole country and to say that is not the right thing to do, to change the law that would allow them to throw them all back as Cornyn and Cuellar are saying. That is not the way to do it.

“The way to do it is to obey the law which is what the President is doing and to put in the resources to increase the number of federal judges who can hear the case individually of every person, child, or grown up and to give them lawyers to represent them, because they cannot represent themselves in a courtroom and to have facilities that are worthy of a young child or a teenager or an adult while they are being processed and given the opportunity to have justice.”

The news conference at Hinojosa’s Edinburg district office was held on Saturday. The day before, the CHC held a news conference in Washington, D.C., also to discuss the humanitarian crisis on the southwest border. At that news conference, Hinojosa said:

“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus stands up in defense of the unaccompanied minors from Central America. This is an issue that is especially concerning to us because they are our kids. The children coming from our neighboring Latin American countries could be our nieces, nephews, grandkids. As a Caucus, we continue to fight for immigration reform and now, we join together to stand up for these unaccompanied children. We must ensure these children are protected under the law and that we find solutions to this humanitarian issue at hand.”