McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report he plans to hold a summit with area leaders on Tuesday to address concerns raised by “border stakeholders” regarding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s threats last week that he wants to “arrest everybody who crosses the border.”
Tuesday’s meeting in the Rio Grande Valley comes just days before Abbott hosts a “Border Security Summit” on Thursday in Del Rio, Texas, which Cortez plans on attending.
And it follows a similar meeting to address similar concerns from border stakeholders Friday in Laredo, the mayor of that South Texas city said.
“The idea is to talk about the situation and have and compile all the facts as it pertains to Hidalgo County so when I go Thursday to Del Rio that I have facts in front of me and suggestions for solutions,” Cortez told Border Report on Monday morning.
“Am I concerned? Absolutely I’m concerned because I have a governor who says he’s going to arrest people for trespassing. I don’t know who’s going to be the one doing the arresting. Where they will put them? Test them for COVID? Feed them? Provide legal defense for them so I have more questions than answers.”
I have more questions than answers.”Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez
Abbott on Monday afternoon announced he will hold the Border Security Summit at 5 p.m. Thursday in Del Rio. It will include Texas sheriffs, police chiefs, county judges, mayors and landowners “to hear from state officials on the actions that the State of Texas is taking to secure the southern border and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.” Abbott said he hopes they come up with “collaborative strategies between state government, local city and county officials, law enforcement, and landowners to secure our border communities.”
On Friday, Laredo border leaders met with local police, city leaders and officials with the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said during a news conference Monday in Laredo.
During Friday’s meeting, they also discussed what would happen if Title 42 bridge restrictions are lifted and concerns that migrants might come across en masse at ports of entry to claim asylum, Saenz said.
The Trump administration put in place Title 42 restrictions in March 2020 to stop the spread of coronavirus. Title 42 has since limited non-essential travelers from crossing from Mexico and Canada into the United States, and it also has limited migrants from crossing to seek asylum in the United States.
But if bridge restrictions are lifted, then there is a concern that migrants will flock by the thousands to ports of entry to try to cross into the United States and claim asylum, rather than making dangerous illegal river crossings of the Rio Grande.
Border Patrol Laredo Sector Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak, and Randy Howe, director of field operations for CBP in Laredo, both indicated during Friday’s meeting in Laredo that federal officials are monitoring the situation and prepared to act, Saenz said.
“They assured us to the group that in the event the numbers should escalate, which we perceive will happen if Title 42 is lifted, that they would be fully responsible for what comes out of this,” Saenz said.
“We reminded the chiefs that we can only do so much and it’s really up to the federal government,” Saenz said. “They stood up and took that step and said ‘we will be responsible for any and all activity on the border,’ and that’s their mission.”
Migrants ‘could rush in’
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, whose hometown is Laredo and who was at Friday’s meeting, said there are significant security concerns by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers over what would happen if migrants are now allowed to walk over the Rio Grande at land ports of entry and claim asylum.
During the press conference on Monday, he staunchly advocated continuing the Trump-era metering system whereby CBP officers are positioned midway on the bridges and they allow only so many people to cross to claim asylum each day.
“Once they are past the middle of the bridge they’re in U.S. territory and then that can increase the number of people who could rush in and try to come across,” Cuellar said.
However, a lawsuit currently is challenging this policy, which was begun in April 2018, and migrant advocates feel is unfair and inhumane and denies migrants a right to claim asylum in the United States.
Cuellar said that if Title 42 is rescinded, then Title 8 should be re-implemented. That’s the U.S. Code that regulates and restricts immigration that had been in effect prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
But he warned that re-instating Title 8 will require more CPB officers and Border Patrol agents in the field and at the ports of entry to question migrants and to process asylum paperwork.
“The old way is Title 8 that’s the way we’ve been using for years,” Cuellar said. “It’s going to take more time, more personnel.”
And he said that is going to drive up immigration-related costs.
“Detention costs will go into the billions of dollars,” said Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.
He said he has requested additional funding through the Appropriations Committee, which this summer will begin debating fiscal 2022 costs.
“People in Washington need to listen to local communities and they got to understand the practicalities and what impacts those policy changes will have,” Cuellar said. “Making a policy change from 1,500 miles away is very different from being here.”
‘Detention costs will go into the billions’
It is uncertain what the Biden administration plans to do with migrants claiming asylum if Title 42 restrictions are lifted and they are allowed to cross onto U.S. soil.
Vice President Kamala Harris is in Guatemala on Monday meeting with the country’s president to come up with solutions to the border crisis. Guatemala is among the Northern Triangle countries from Central America, which also include El Salvador and Honduras, where most migrants are coming to the Texas border from fleeing economic hardships and violence in their home countries.
Migrant advocates and non-governmental organizations want to continue to help the migrants to reach out to family in the country where they can stay until their U.S. immigration court hearings are held. However, opponents have been outspoken against reinstating what they call the Obama administration’s “catch and release” policy.
Abbott, a Republican, last week told Fox News that starting this week, Texas was going to take action to stop migrants from coming across the Texas-Mexico border.
“The law that I’m going to use is going to be legal ways in which Texas is going to start arresting everybody coming across the border,” Abbott said.
He said he was going to charge them with aggravated trespass and promised “they’re going to spend a half a year in jail, if not a year jail.”
He also promised to announce more actions this week. The announcements could coincide with the law enforcement border summit Abbott is hosting in Del Rio on Thursday afternoon. He has invited county judges and border leaders from 34 counties that he has proclaimed disaster areas due to an influx in illegal immigration.
Cortez plans to attend the Del Rio meeting and he told Border Report that since Abbott’s announcement, he is extremely concerned with what Abbott might expect of local governments.
He said he spent most of the weekend on the phone with Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, as well as port directors and Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings.
“Just trying to get information and trying to connect all the dots,” Cortez said. “We’re all concerned with what might happen because it’s easy to say ‘I’m going to go arrest them.’ But are we talking about ten or 100 or thousands of people?”
Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which runs the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, confirmed to Border Report that she plans on being at Cortez’ summit meeting on Tuesday.
Cuellar told Border Report he would gladly attend Tuesday’s meeting in Hidalgo County, adding that he has not been invited to the governor’s summit in Del Rio.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.