McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Dozens of federal lawmakers plus two members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet traveled to South Texas on Friday and met with federal immigration officials and locals as the surge of migrants on the Southwest border continues and the Trump Administration tries to implement new policies to deter illegal crossings.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer led a delegation of 17 senators who toured several sites on Friday, including the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen. That was the same overcrowded facility that Vice President Mike Pence toured a week ago.
At least 30 other congressmen spread out across the Rio Grande Valley region, taking various tours of detention facilities and speaking with local and federal immigration officials.
Visits to Humanitarian Respite Center
Schumer’s group of senators on Friday morning visited the Humanitarian Respite Center, which is run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in downtown McAllen. The center has been taking in on average 500 migrants daily and recently relocated to what used to be a nightclub just across the street from the bus station where Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents drop off migrants who have been processed through detention facilities.
$30M in humanitarian relief funds
That same center was the site of an afternoon roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and the office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to instruct nonprofits and local municipalities on how to apply for $30 million in new federal reimbursement funds for the humanitarian care of migrants.
Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, has been working since 2014 to get federal reimbursement funds back to the communities in South Texas that have been helping migrants. But despite money appropriated by Congress several times, amounting to $100 million sent to the state of Texas, he said, “the only thing reimbursed was $400,000 to the McAllen area.”
These new funds will operate through a new system and will be given directly to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program National Board under FEMA, which is comprised of representatives of the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities USA, the Jewish Federations of North America, National Council of Churches, The Salvation Army and United Way Worldwide. They will decide how much and which organizations will receive a portion of the available $30 million, he said during an afternoon press conference, flanked by many local officials and members of area nonprofit groups.
The exact disbursement system is still being worked out and could include dividing the funds among applicants from all 50 states. Locals fear that would diminish the amount of funds sent to the Rio Grande Valley.
Rep. Cuellar said he is trying to influence the board to change the process to send more funds to South Texas “because this is where the bulk of the work has been done.”
“This goes on day and night for five years,” McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez told a press conference Friday after the roundtable discussion at the Humanitarian Respite Center. “This is much needed. This is a burden that the City of McAllen has had now for over five years. And if you ask anyone in the Rio Grande Valley they will tell you that the community that has taken the brunt of this immigration issue in South Texas is McAllen, Texas.”
Sen. Schumer after touring the Border Patrol Central Processing Center across town reiterated his respect for the work that the Humanitarian Respite Center has provided to over 150,000 migrants and families since June 2014. And he told media that he supported funds going to that and other area organizations that have helped with this humanitarian crisis.
2 Cabinet officials also tour RGV on Friday
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan toured with Customs and Border Protection officials who patrol the rivers, roads and airways looking for migrants trying to enter the country illegally.
And acting Secretary of Defense Richard V. Spencer toured McAllen and met with service members currently deployed to the Southwest border to thwart illegal immigration, his office said.
“It’s an important day for the Rio Grande Valley and that shows you that people want to learn about the issues. I’m excited that everybody is visiting the Valley,” Cuellar told Border Report.
Contact Sandra Sanchez at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.