Rep. Gonzalez meets with VP Harris on asylum seekers

Border group urges reopening ports of entry

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, along with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, met with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday to discuss the number of asylum seekers being encountered at the border, according to a news release issued by Gonzalez’s office.

According to the release, Gonzalez, D-McAllen, talked about how to boost economies as a way to incentive migrants to remain in their home countries and stressed the importance of having a “humane process” to address migration.

He also urged the Biden-Harris administration to develop an infrastructure that would allow migrants to apply for asylum at a U.S. embassy in their home country or a neighboring country.

“It’s imperative that we work together to stem the flow of migrants to our southern border,” Gonzalez stated in the release. “The bottom line is that our communities in South Texas, hardworking personnel on the ground and our current immigration system are overwhelmed. We need to address the root causes of migration in the countries of origin in a bipartisan way or we’re going to continue to experience migration happen long after this administration leaves office. I thank Vice President Harris for visiting with us today and look forward to working with her to get us on the right track.”

The large number of migrant encounters was also noted in a letter from the Texas Border Coalition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Texas Border Coalition joined a chorus of bi-national leaders urging the DHS to lift restrictions on non-essential travel between the U.S., Mexico and Canada which U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday would be renewed for another month.

The restrictions, which will remain in effect through June 20, suspends entry into the U.S. via land border, ferry crossing, rail, or through coastal ports of entry from Canada and Mexico for travel not deemed essential.

In the letter, addresssed to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the coalition wrote they believed it was time to re-open land ports of entry that last year began limiting travelers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Common-sense measures such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a negative COVID-19 test, and proof of vaccination can make cross-border travel safe for our citizens, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel, and travelers alike,” the coalition wrote.

The coalition is a group of elected officials and businsess leaders along the Texas-Mexico border. Rio Grande Valley officials who signed the May 14 letter include Cameron County Judge and TBC Chairman Eddie Treviño Jr., Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez, Weslaco Mayor David Suarez, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, Brownsville Mayor Juan “Trey” Mendez III, and Cynthia Sakulenski, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

They noted that these restrictions had lasted more than 14 months and said they had “heavily paralyzed and devastated” the local of economy of border communities which, in 2019, had an impact of more than $19 billion in economic activity, supported over 650,000 jobs, and increased infrastructure development along their international boundaries, according to the news release.

“Before the pandemic, the economy of our border communities relied on the influx of daily travelers from Mexico who acquire goods and services in the United States,” they said. “However, the current border travel restrictions have dramatically limited these travelers and the critical cross-border exchange of business and commerce, leaving local border economies shattered.”

“The year-long exclusion of these customers is harming our local economies, especially our retail, dining, and hospitality sectors,” the letter continued. “Severely restricting cross-border travel in this way is not an effective long-term policy and causes disproportionate economic impact to border communities.”

They added that if asylum seekers were now being allowed to enter the country, visa holders who need to visit family and want to conduct “essential commercial activities” should also be allowed to enter.

In arguing for the reopening, they pointed to the high number of asylum seekers being encountered at the border.

“Collectively, we request re-opening our Land Ports of Entry (LPOEs) with sufficient lanes and a full complement of CBP staff to maintain efficient traffic,” the letter wrote. “Instituting efficient and safe operations at our land ports will ensure that international travelers are able to contribute to our border economy.”

“We need international travelers conducting crucial commercial activities in our border region to revitalize our economy in the aftermath of the pandemic,” they said.