While speaking with reporters about his support for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar took issue with several immigration concerns and announced his intention to advocate for reopening the border.

Cuellar, D-Laredo, said he is in the process of drafting a letter with other lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, to explore reopening the border safely and on a case by case basis.

Due to COVID-19, all non-essential travel is currently restricted at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.

The congressman said he cautioned the Biden administration about not listening to the concerns of border communities.

“In my opinion, they’re only listening to the immigration activists, and they’re not listening to the folks on the border,” Cuellar said during a Wednesday morning video conference with members of the news media. “Therefore, I hope that the White House and the new secretary pay attention to what’s happening down here at the border.”

Cuellar also expressed concern about legal visa holders from Mexico being denied entry into the U.S. due to the border travel restrictions. It’s costing the U.S. billions of dollars, he said.

“… This March will be one year, which means that we would’ve lost $19 billion out of the 18 million Mexicans that come over to shop,” Cuellar said. “We’re going to lose that in our economy. So that’s what we’re seeing — undocumented people coming in, but the legal visa holders are not coming in.”

It should be noted that visa holders are allowed into the U.S., but only for essential travel. Commercial purposes, like shopping, are not considered essential.

Cuellar also expressed concern about migrants being transported on charter buses without being tested. However, federal and local policies are addressing COVID-19 concerns.

Migrants currently released from U.S. Border Patrol custody are only tested for COVID-19 if they are symptomatic. Then they are released in McAllen or Brownsville; both cities recently acquired COVID-19 tests from the Texas Division of Emergency Management and are testing migrants released into their communities prior to their travels.

Those who test positive have the option to quarantine at hotels in Brownsville and McAllen under an agreement with the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

Of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which the House passed Saturday morning, Cuellar believes the bill will not undergo many changes as the Senate considers the plan.

“There will be some changes, but most of the bill will stay the way it is,” Cuellar said. “Sometime, probably by Saturday, that bill will be sent over.”

The bill includes a national vaccination plan, safely reopening schools, $1,400 per-person checks, and support for the hardest-hit small businesses.

“Basically, as you know, it has monies for schools, monies for cities, it has monies for vaccines and it has several items that I think you are familiar with,” Cuellar said. “You’ve seen different polls, and basically as of the latest poll that came out this morning, 77% of Americans support this stimulus package, including 59% of the Republicans.

“… Just keep in mind, we have a pandemic, but we have to pay for this because right now we’re paying hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars on the interest rate that has been added by both Democrats and Republicans over the years.”

Cuellar explained that the state of Texas will receive $27.2 billion under the current bill proposed by the House. Of that funding, $16.8 billion will go directly to the state of Texas, and the rest of the funding will be distributed to cities and counties.

He said Hidalgo and Starr counties would receive $213 million and $13 million, respectively, as the distribution of the funds are determined by population.

“I would caution you that this is the House version,” Cuellar said. “We think this is going to stay on the Senate side since we now have a Democratic majority. We think this is going to stay here, but if we have some adjustments, we’ll find out in the next few days.”


fjimenez@themonitor.com

Monitor staff writer Valerie Gonzalez contributed to this report.