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Cornyn Says Situation At The Border Could Derail Bipartisan Work On Broader Immigration Reform

Sen. John Cornyn at a press conference about border immigration at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
Maria Mendez
Sen. John Cornyn at a press conference about border immigration at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Congressman Henry Cuellar visited a facility for child migrants in Carrizo Springs Friday before meeting with leaders in Laredo to discuss the increasing number of migrants arriving at the border.

In Laredo, the Republican Senator and Laredo Democrat stressed bipartisan solutions to the broad immigration system, but Cornyn warned that the current situation at the border could threaten efforts such as those to create permanent protections for DACA recipients brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

“I've finally come to the opinion that we should quit using them as a pawn,” he said. “But if we don't get control over what's happening at the border now, this is going to blow any chance we have to make reasonable progress on immigration reform.”

Cuellar said lawmakers are set to vote on the DREAM Act for DACA recipients next week, and the Biden administration has also proposed legislation creating a new pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and millions of other unauthorized immigrants already in the country.

But Biden has faced pushback for his handling of a growing number of children and families arriving at the border, including the reopening of a Carrizo Springs facility for child migrants run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Advocates fear for the health of child migrants being held for increasingly longer periods of time and would like to see migrant children and families be quickly paroled and released to nonprofits instead of being held in federal facilities.

Cornyn said there were masks and attempts to social distance at the Carrizo Springs facility but that it was now operating at pre-pandemic levels due to the influx of child migrants from a seasonal uptick in migration and policy changes allowing children to once again enter the country as they seek asylum.

“I think they’re doing the best that they can under very difficult circumstances,” he said. “This is another example that where all the public health guidance that all of us are trying to follow kind of gets canceled out in the interest of necessity, which is to try to deal with this population.”

The Biden administration has also planned to open more temporary tent facilities in areas like Eagle Pass to process certain asylum-seeking families and minors now being let through the border.

“You can't build enough facilities to take care of all the people that are going to continue to come across the border. You have to do something to stop or to slow down the input or the flow into the country, and that's the challenge,” Cornyn said

Immigrant rights advocates at the roundtable asked for more support and resources as they help take in and test migrants. Gov. Greg Abbott refused to sign off on a plan to allocate FEMA funds to border communities helping test and take in migrants.

“We are here, we're here to help and as part of our mission, but if you can help us with figuring out the testing situation, the quarantining situation, that will begin to relieve some of our stress and in serving the families,” said Rebecca Solao, executive director of Catholic Charities of Laredo.

Cuellar said the federal government can bypass the state and more funds for humanitarian aid should be on their way to nonprofits under the latest stimulus package.

Laredo nonprofit leaders also said the U.S. needs to address the root causes of migration, such as poverty and natural disasters, that have pushed people out of Latin America, something which Biden has promised to do.

But Cornyn said more efforts are needed to address the “pull factors” of immigration, such as the perception that the Biden administration has opened the border, and the backlog in the immigration system. The Biden administration has repeatedly stressed the border isn’t open and has urged migrants to wait.

Ahead of the Laredo event, border residents and activists criticized Cornyn and Cuellar for the inclusion of only one leader of an immigrant help group at the roundtable, compared to three members of a Border Patrol union when the event was first scheduled.

“It was only after their press release went out yesterday, and members of the community began to make calls, that they invited a handful of community representatives, and people with some expertise on immigration, who come from this community,” said Tricia Cortez, co-founder of the No Border Wall Coalition in Laredo. “These members of our community were simply an afterthought.”

Border advocates also pushed back on Republicans' characterizations that a “crisis” at the border is unfolding as Biden unwinds Trump's anti-immigration policies.

“The crisis was created by Donald Trump," said Carlos Evaristo Flores, an attorney for landowners and member of the No Border Wall Coalition in Laredo. "The crisis was created by the racist agenda of many leaders in the Republican Party, who use these immigrants and these communities along the border as an excuse to get political points."

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria