McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A Democratic congressman from the South Texas border and a Republican congressman from West Texas border are meeting with top U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials this week to discuss resources for border areas as Title 42 comes to an end, Border Report has learned.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from South Texas, told Border Report on Monday that he and U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican who represents West Texas, on Wednesday are scheduled to meet with the top brass from CBP in Washington, D.C., as part of bipartisan talks with the Biden administration to ensure safeguards for border communities and law enforcement as the dissolution of Title 42 nears.
U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, and Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, are to meet with CBP officials to discuss the end of Title 42. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photos)
Title 42 is the public health policy put in place in March 2020 by the Trump administration that prevents migrants from crossing the border and claiming asylum in order to limit the spread of coronavirus. A federal judge has ruled that policy must be lifted by Dec. 21.
But with thousands of migrants lining the streets south of the border in northern Mexican cities like Matamoros and Reynosa, U.S. officials say they are worried about the impact this could have on border communities.
“I’ve been working with Congressman Tony Gonzales in a very bipartisan way,” Cuellar told Border Report via zoom. “He and I will be sitting down with a top CBP officers later this week, to talk about real ideas that we can actually implement. Because as you know, there are people that come up with so many ideas, but they’re not going to be implemented. So we’re looking at realistic things that we can actually do.”
He says this includes discussing resources to help prevent suicides by Border Patrol agents who are overwhelmed by the number of encounters on the Southwest border.
In Fiscal Year 2022, which ended Oct. 31, U.S. Border Patrol encountered more than 2.2 million migrants along the Southwest border, a 33% increase from Fiscal Year 2021, according to CBP data.
He said border leaders are concerned that the Biden administration will revert back to “catch and release” policies that allow asylum seekers to remain in the United States once processed and allows them to travel freely while they await their U.S. immigration court proceedings.
Currently there are 1.97 million pending immigration court cases nationwide — the most ever, according to Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration cases.
Cuellar stresses that even when Title 42 goes away there will still be in place immigration polices to safeguard the U.S. border.
This includes Title 8, which involves placing undocumented migrants in deportation proceedings. However that involves a lot of paperwork and requires the detention of migrants for at least several days during processing. The concern from border communities is that there won’t be enough space to hold the migrants and that they will be released on the streets, he said.
Cuellar said the mayor of Laredo and other city officials have asked him whether there will be funds available to bus asylum seekers who are released from their South Texas border city to other U.S. cities in the interior.
“If other cities do that, then the answer is other communities outside of the border, will be getting buses to their communities,” he said.
El Paso has been busing migrants to other cities for several months.
Cuellar said the current Fiscal 2023 government spending bill has added 250 Border Patrol agents and more funds for border processing coordinators, plus $23 million for mental healthcare for agents, new border monitoring technologies, pay raises for agents, and even additional clothing allowances.
But Congress has yet to pass the bill and is running out of time before facing a government shutdown on Friday night if measures aren’t passed.
Cuellar said differences in domestic spending measures are drawing a rift between Republicans and Democrats in Congress and threaten the shutdown. And he criticizes Senators for delaying until the end of the year to take up the spending bill in earnest.
“The House Appropriations, we did our work back in July, we passed the work that we needed to do. But we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the Senate. And so they usually get engaged at the end of the year, I just don’t understand why this happens every single year,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Appropriations Committee. He is in line to be ranking member of the committee under the new Republican-led leadership in January, but first that must be approved.
He also has been selected to serve as chief deputy Whip in the 118th Congress under incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, he said.
In that role he will help to decide which legislative measures are priorities for the Democratic party and he will sit on a Policy and Steering Committee, which decides the committees that new members are appointed to.
“So when a new member wants to get into a particular committee, we will vote on it. And so that gives me a very different perspective, also, because I’m gonna try to help as much as I can, especially Texans,” he told Border Report.