The following is a transcript of an interview with Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar that aired Sunday, March 28, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Now to the surge of migrants at the southern border. More than 18,000 unaccompanied children are being held in federal custody. Pictures from inside a Customs and Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas that you are seeing right now show children waiting to be processed, held in overcrowded conditions, sitting on the floor with foil blankets. These images have been shared with us by Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, a Democrat who joins us from Laredo. Good morning to you, Congressman.
REP. HENRY CUELLAR: Good morning to you, MARGARET.
MARGARET BRENNAN:: I want to talk about some of these pictures that you have shared with us and- and start with some of the others, the pictures that we want to put up on screen right here. You say that they show dozens of young girls who have been held for far longer than the 72-hour legal time limit. Why are these young girls being held for that long? Where are they going? What is their status?
REP. CUELLAR: Well certainly- first of all, Border Patrol does not want to keep people there longer than 72 hours, but there’s two issues- two factors coming into play. One, there are so many number- there’s a large number of people coming across every single days- groups of over a hundred individuals coming in into the Border Patrol custody, number one. Number two, the flow through- that is through HHS, they’re moving and they’re trying to get more shelters open, for example, the one in San Diego, the one in Carrizo Springs, San Antonio, is going to have two places, different places. So they’ve got to flow those people out as soon as possible. And what we’re seeing is at- at first the priority was given to young boys. For example, Carrizo Springs has young boys from 13 to 17. San Diego is- is going to be now taking 500 of the young girls- or have taken that. They’ve been flown from there. They were supposed to fly out 700, but only 500 went out. So the other 200 are part of the over 5,000 individuals that they have only in the Rio Grande. And out of the 5,000 plus that they have at the Rio Grande, 65%, about 65% are unaccompanied kids.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I also want to put up on the screen some of the other pictures of families that you say are being detained under a bridge, it appears. They’re being given foil blankets. You tell us this is a temporary processing site and that they are waiting to get into a holding facility. These look like families outside under the elements, are- are all of the people we’re seeing here, were they expelled from the U.S. or were they released into the US?
REP. CUELLAR: Combination of two is what we see. Title 42, which is a 1944 law, the health- public health rationale, is used mainly for 71% of the crossers which are single adults. There are some family units that have been returned to Mexico depending on the age of the kids that are with them. So what we’re seeing is at that particular facilities, they might want to move them into another Border Patrol facility. And if they don’t, this is what’s happening. Some will be returned, but over 2,000 of them have been released into the United States without a notice to appear. I emphasize, without a notice to appear at a immigration court. They’re supposed to appear, show u, maybe in 60 days, report to a ICE office. This is unprecedented.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden said this week that- that the majority of people were to be expelled under Title 42. What you are saying and what Customs and Border Patrol is also said to- to CBS News is that this is essentially not being fully enforced as he explained it. You’re saying people are being released.
REP. CUELLAR: Well, adults are pretty much returned. You know, 71% out of the 100,000 people that passed in in February are adults. Those are being returned, expelled back. Some family units are ex- are turned back into Mexico depending on the age of the kids. Thirteen and above are being returned. I know the president’s right about they’re working with Mexico, so Mexico do more. But the rest of them, the family units- the family units are being released into the United States. That’s where the burden of the border communities are felt. The cities, the counties, the NGOs. We’re feeling the brunt of what’s happening with the family units. Unaccompanied kids are different.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
REP. CUELLAR: Those are taken under the HHS.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And I just want to point out that we’re showing your photos because journalists are being blocked largely by the Biden administration from bringing our own cameras inside to do that firsthand reporting, which is why we’ve identified as being provided by you. On- on the point you just made about Mexico, you’ve said you’re hearing more from Mexico than you are from Washington. The president of Mexico said this week that President Biden created the expectations that migrants would be treated better here than they were under his predecessor. And that’s what’s feeding this. Do you think Mexico is just trying to use this as leverage right now over the United States? Is that why they are not accepting those families trying to be expelled back?
REP. CUELLAR: Well, I don’t want to put any motives in the words of the Mexicans. They need to answer that. But I will tell you that they have started raids in the southern part where they’ve sent the National Guard. They’ve sent immigration officers where now they’re trying to do more to stop people from coming across. And that is key. Roberta Jacobson knows this. She’s a friend of mine. She’s going to be concentrating on getting Mexico to do more. They can do more. I promise you. They can do more.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The vice president was handed this portfolio this week, along with some of the diplomatic initiatives. Have you spoken to her or her office about your concerns?
REP. CUELLAR: Not since November. I have spoken to Secretary Mayorkas. I’ve spoken to some folks at the White House, I’ve spoken to the CBP acting commissioner, I’ve talked- talked to a lot of folks on the ground. But I- certainly myself, the other congressmen down here, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez and of course, Vela, Congressman Filemon Vela, we all want to be helpful to the vice president. I’m glad that the president put the second- the vice president in charge, because we need somebody that can look at the comprehensive view–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mhm.
REP. CUELLAR: –of what we’re seeing here. It’s- it’s not a simple solution.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No.
REP. CUELLAR: I grant that. But you’ve got to start from what we do in Central America, because remember–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
REP. CUELLAR: –we have, since 2016 to now, we’ve given them over $3.6 billion–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
REP. CUELLAR: –appropriated money. Now some of that has been held because of some conditions–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REP. CUELLAR: –that the Senate added. But we’ve got to help them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Congressman, we have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us today.
REP. CUELLAR: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be back with more FACE THE NATION in a moment.
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