McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A South Texas congressman says the surge of migrants currently planning to cross into El Paso could soon be diverted to the South Texas border.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report that the Biden administration has asked the Mexican government to help direct migrants who are heading north through their country to the Rio Grande Valley, instead of points west like El Paso, New Mexico and Arizona.

The request comes as Title 42 is expected to be lifted next week along the Southwest border, which could result in thousands more asylum-seekers trying to cross into the United States.

And it comes as lawmakers in Washington, D.C., on Thursday were debating a government spending bill and how much to spend on border security ahead of a deadline.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is vice chair of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Cuellar is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee and is in line to be the committee’s ranking member next session.

In a phone call from Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Cuellar told Border Report that U.S. officials have put this request to Mexican officials because the Rio Grande Valley has the resources and processing infrastructure to handle thousands more migrants. But he didn’t agree with the decision.

“The U.S. government has been asking Mexico if they can help them divert some of the traffic from the other areas that don’t have the infrastructure that the Rio Grande Valley has,” Cuellar said. “The U.S. government is already asking the Mexican government, ‘Hey, can you help us divert this because we can’t really handle this in El Paso and other places.'”

But he says it’s not Mexican officials who control the routes of migrants — it’s the transnational criminal organizations and drug cartels — and he says he is unsure how successful the Mexican government will be.

“It’s really the criminal organizations that control the traffic and the flow of where they go, because they’re the ones who are making billions of dollars off these migrants,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said that the Department of Homeland Security recently expanded the main migrant processing center in McAllen, commonly called “Ursula” for the street it is on, as well as expanded a soft-sided multi-block tent facility in the town of Donna, which was built in 2021 to handle an overflow of asylum seekers.

A temporary U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center is seen from a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter on March 23, 2021, in Donna, Texas. A surge of immigrants, including unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States from Mexico overcrowded such centers in south Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“The Rio Grande Valley has been working on this type of surge since 2014. So they got the facilities, they got contractors, and everything in place to handle this type of surge. But that doesn’t make it right,” he said.

A soft-sided facility that was built in his hometown of Laredo, Texas, currently is processing 1,000 migrants who are brought daily from other Border Patrol sectors, he said.

“Laredo has now become a processing center where they’re taking people from the Valley, also from Miami, from Puerto Rico, and from so many other places, like Arizona, where they’re taking almost about 1,000 people a day,” he said.

But he said sending migrants to South Texas puts a strain on Border Patrol agents, CBP officers and their families there. And he says he worries about reports of increased suicide among the agency.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility was built this year on the outskirts of Laredo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

“The men and women in the Valley that have been overwhelmed for so many years. And, you know, we’ve seen suicides. We’ve seen personal accidents there. And, and, you know, they’re stressed already over there. But that is the rationale,” he said.

Cuellar advocates for tougher enforcement of immigration laws that would prevent asylum seekers from illegally reentering the country by mandating stricter consequences.

He says migrants need “to follow an orderly process for requests,” which he says should be done online or through a port of entry. “And if they come in between ports of entry and don’t follow that pathway through a port of entry, then there should be consequences. Consequences could be expedited deportation.”

Border spending debate in Congress

Congress currently is debating a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2023 that has been hung up in the Senate over border security spending.

The Senate passed it Thursday, and the House could take up the measure on Friday.

Currently, the bill would increase funds for CBP by $1.8 billion above Fiscal Year 2022, according to Cuellar’s office. This would include funding for an additional 300 new Border Patrol agents and 125 CBP officers. It also would include:

  • $800 million for a shelter and services grant program
  • $24.6 million for suicide prevention and workforce wellness
  • $6 million for increased uniform allowance
  • $3.5 for rescue beacons and the Missing Migrant Program;
  • $31 million for new body cameras and video recording equipment for Border Patrol
  • $97 million for border technology programs and new border technology
  • $69 million for “non-intrusive inspection systems.”