HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — A day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster along the Texas-Mexico border due to an influx of immigrants, a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers visiting South Texas said now is not the time to reopen the border to travelers without a “solid plan” in place.
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona; and Texas Congressmen Tony Gonzales, a Republican from El Paso, and Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose hometown is in South Texas, toured the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, just days after they sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting a “timeline for removing the restrictions to non-essential traffic through” land ports of entry.
Most border communities have been calling for the immediate reopening of land ports to Mexican national residents so they can come and spend money in American border cities. But the group reiterated repeatedly that it must be carefully thought out and vetted in order to not invite an additional surge of immigrants or human traffickers from taking advantage of the border reopening.
They advocated for a “transition plan” before the Biden administration lifts travel restrictions that have been in place for over a year. They made the statements on Wednesday after touring several areas in the Rio Grande Valley, which is the epicenter of a migrant surge that began when President Joe Biden took office.
“Some people want to call it a crisis. Some people call it a disaster. The fact is our local border communities are overwhelmed,” Cornyn said as the group held a news conference on Wednesday afternoon at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.
“The worst thing to happen would be for Title 42 to expire and no transition plan in place,” Cornyn said. “That would completely disarm the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection of the massive humanity that’s sure to come.”
To ward off the spread of coronavirus, the Trump administration implemented Title 42 travel restrictions, which allows only “essential” workers and those coming for medical or commercial trade reasons, to cross at land ports.
But several border leaders, like Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, have said the economy of their communities is suffering because Mexican shoppers cannot drive or walk over, and they want the land ports reopened.
“The border economy is hurting. We’ve been hurting for some time now as a direct result of the closures,” Saenz told Border Report on Wednesday.
He said that 40 to 50% of Mexican shoppers have been reduced. “So the fact that they have been closed has truly, truly hurt us economically. And we’re still hurting,” Saenz said.
Nevertheless, after speaking with law enforcement on the border and at a bridge in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, the four lawmakers declared the time is not right to reopen. Although they did differ in their tone and strength of word choices, with Republicans coming off slightly terser in how they characterize the ongoing influx.
“There has to be a plan in place when Title 42 goes away. The administration has to have a plan in place otherwise as bad as things are now, things will spiral out of control, the floodgates will be wide open,” said Gonzales, a Republican.
“All we’re asking for is a balance between commerce, tourism and security and this is why we’re here in a bipartisan approach,” said Cuellar, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.
Mostly Wednesday, however, they touted their bicameral border legislation, the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, which all four have sponsored in Congress.
Sinema, who chairs the Senate Border Management Subcommittee, called it “practical” and the “best help.”
The legislation was filed in April and proposes a myriad of “smart solutions” to improve life on the border, Cornyn said, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, which he called “a unique part of our state and of our nation.”
If passed by Congress, it would authorize the opening of four regional processing facilities to help facilitate and sort the thousands of incoming asylum-seekers who are crossing the border each day. This could free up U.S. Border Patrol agents to better patrol the frontlines, and not be detained processing migrant paperwork. The bill also would:
- Set a prioritized docket of migrant immigration court cases.
- Expand legal orientation programs and translation services to help counsel migrants.
- Set new protections for unaccompanied migrant children to be released to U.S. sponsors to ensure their safety.
- Increase staffing to include 300 asylum officers, more Immigration Customs and Enforcement staff, CBP officers, and Border Patrol processing coordinators.
- Coordinate between DHS officials and non-governmental organizations and local municipalities to prevent the release of migrants into small communities not equipped to handle an influx.
- Improve the reporting of information to Congress on the migrant influx from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and HHS.
- Add 150 teams of new U.S. immigration judges.