An influential House Democrat whose district is along the southern border says the ongoing migrant crisis needs increased repercussions for illegal entry, an end to “catch and release” and more pressure on Mexico by the Biden administration.
“I think the asylum law, the criteria for letting people in, can be adjusted, No. 1. No. 2, I think Title 8 should be enforced,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said in an interview with Fox News Digital, referring to regular border authorities.
“I think even if you don’t change the criteria for asylum, there’s enough under Title 8 that can get the job done, and that includes expedited removal. So, you got to have repercussions at the border, absolutely,” he said.
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Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, speaks during a news conference on rising suicide rates at the U.S. Border Patrol Dec. 7, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Cuellar, a moderate Democrat, has been a key bipartisan voice in finding solutions to the ongoing crisis that has engulfed the area since 2021, often finding himself opposing some of the moves the Biden administration has taken to handle the crisis.
Congress is debating a supplemental funding request from the White House that includes $14 billion for processing, aid to states and increased expedited removal. But Republicans have called for stricter limits on asylum, greater deportation and a limit on the release of migrants into the interior.
But Cuellar also said one thing was missing from discussions about the border in general, and that’s the need to put more pressure on Mexico to stop the flow north.
“We have to make sure that we put a constant pressure on Mexico, where Mexico slows down and holds people down there on the southern border. Then, naturally, there will be less people at our border,” he said, later adding that the pressure has to be “constant, constant, constant.”
He stressed that “catch and release” remained a pull factor for many migrants. Fox News recently reported that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said that more than 85% of migrants are being released into the U.S. There were over 300,000 migrant encounters at the border in December, a new record. Overall in fiscal year 2023 there were over 2.4 million migrant encounters.
A group of migrants walks to a van as hundreds of migrants gather along the border Dec. 5, 2023, in Lukeville, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
“If you have in one year millions of individuals that are encountered, and then you let hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them in, that becomes the pull factor. That catch and release, where people are released into the U.S., is the pull factor that I’m referring to,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar also had advice for the White House on how to tackle the crisis.
“If I was advising the president, I would look at the American public and say, ‘There’s an immigration crisis at the border, and we’ll get on it. I’ll work with Democrats and Republicans. We’re going to get it done. I’m on it.’” he said.
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“And then make sure that you get rid of that pull factor, which is catch and release, letting people in, waiting for five, six years in the future before they go to an immigration judge,” he said, citing statistics the vast majority will ultimately be rejected for asylum. “So, why are we allowing hundreds of thousands of them in when, at the end of the day, most of them are going to be rejected?”
He said border walls do not work in the Texas area because the river is the international boundary. So, by the time migrants have gotten to the wall, they are in the country already and can request asylum. He also said adding more Border Patrol agents isn’t the answer without changes to catch and release.
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“You can add 1,000, 2,000 more, but if you don’t have the right policy, then you get more people helping them manage and processing people. That’s not what Border Patrol should be doing,” he said.
The Biden administration has pointed to increased removals it has undertaken since May, claiming it has removed more illegal immigrants since May than in fiscal 2019. It has also pointed to the resumption of direct flights to Venezuela among moves to increase consequences for illegal entry. It has also praised Mexico for resuming flights to Venezuela.