McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As the staff of Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez’s tallies up total recent immigration-related costs for possible reimbursement, he says what is really needed is for Congress to implement “comprehensive immigration reform” to stop the flow of immigrants and alleviate strain on border communities.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday sent a letter to all 254 county judges in the state asking they provide “a full and accurate estimate of the fiscal impact of the current border crisis on their counties.” Abbott said he plans to bill the federal government for the immigration-related expenses.

Cortez says he has instructed his budget director to tally up the South Texas county’s immigration-related costs since the latest surge began after President Joe Biden took office.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez is seen on June 11, 2020, leading a discussion on COVID-19-related costs and issues. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

He says while he certainly would welcome reimbursements to costs spent in the county for transporting, housing, feeding and testing asylum-seekers for COVID-19, he said he believes Congress needs to enact meaningful changes to the country’s entire immigration policy first and set a clear direction forward. He said appropriating pay-back funds, or passing some immigration reforms that only address part of the ongoing problems, will not get to the root of the overall situation.

“We want to make sure that the federal government has a comprehensive immigration plan. We cannot continue to deal in a piecemeal basis and constantly change the policy from time to time, based on the current administration. I believe the United States of America needs a comprehensive immigration plan to determine what our needs are and once determined that is the goal,” Cortez told Border Report on Monday via phone.

“In the meantime, we in the border communities are having to deal with it because the government doesn’t have the system in place to test them for COVID,” Cortez said. “They turn them over to our communities.”

We in the border communities are having to deal with it because the government doesn’t have the system in place.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

And that eats up local resources and money that border communities don’t have, especially as Title 42 border travel restrictions remain in place and local revenue and sales taxes are down because Mexican nationals may not cross the border to come shop.

Since Biden took over 94 immigration-related policies or measures have been proposed, but no sweeping overhaul measure has yet to gain bipartisan support or appears to be within reach of passing this divided Congress.

Migrants released by DHS in Hidalgo County are seen behind an iron fence being tested for coronavirus at tents put up by the City of McAllen on April 5, 2021. The city requested the COVID-19 tests from state and local health care emergency health care providers. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Several bills breaking down different components of immigration have been proposed in Congress, the latest being bipartisan measures by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Tony Gonzalez, R-Texas, that would open up four regional processing centers and include the immediate hiring of 150 new teams of immigration judges.

If you talk with judges they’ll tell you they’re backlogged for years and years and years,” Cortez said. “It’s almost laughable for them to feel that’s the solution.”

“The solution is we must have a comprehensive immigration policy that identifies the needs of America and once we identify the needs of Americans to give those people a fast and efficient way to become legal so we can eliminate these situations,” he said.

Part of Abbott’s letter requests that county commissioner courts adopt resolutions supporting the State of Texas’ request for federal reimbursement.

It is unclear whether those expenses include costs paid by municipalities within the counties. Cortez told Border Report his legal council intends to ask the governor’s office to clarify, and they will study whether to present a resolution to Hidalgo County Commissioners. The full court meets tomorrow afternoon but it is unclear whether this item will be addressed because the agenda is already posted online.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at