OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
One of Congress’ top Democrats whose Texas district borders Mexico is imploring President Joe Biden to quickly implement substantive immigration enforcement measures, including ending the so-called “catch-and-release” policy.
The plea from Rep. Henry Cuellar comes after millions of people have illegally crossed into the U.S. under Biden’s watch after he ended then-President Donald Trump’s strict immigration and border enforcement policies on his first day in office.
“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,” Cuellar told Fox News Digital on Friday, adding that the Biden administration ought to be putting a lot more pressure on the Mexican government to intervene as millions of migrants make their way across that country.
“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.
Cuellar, a centrist Democrat, has played a pivotal bipartisan role in seeking solutions to the ongoing crisis that has affected the region since 2021. He has frequently found himself in disagreement with some of the actions taken by the Biden administration to address the crisis.
In Congress, there is an ongoing debate regarding a supplemental funding request from the White House, which includes $14 billion allocated for processing, state aid, and enhanced expedited removal measures. However, Republicans have advocated for more stringent asylum restrictions, increased deportations, and limits on the release of migrants into the interior, Fox News added.
Cuellar also emphasized that one crucial element missing from discussions about the border, in general, is the necessity to exert more pressure on Mexico to halt the northward migration flow.
“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 told Fox News, later adding that the pressure has to be “constant, constant, constant.”
He underscored that “catch and release” still serves as a significant incentive for many migrants. According to a recent report by Fox News, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has stated that over 85% of migrants are being released into the U.S. In December, there were more than 300,000 migrant encounters at the border, setting a new record. In fiscal year 2023, there were over 2.4 million migrant encounters in total.
“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.
The Texas Democrat had some advice for the White House, should Biden be interested.
“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.
“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, noting that, according to 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 explained that border walls are not effective in the Texas area because the river serves as the international boundary. Therefore, by the time migrants reach the wall, they are already within the country and can request asylum. He also emphasized that increasing the number of Border Patrol agents alone is not the solution unless there are changes to the catch-and-release policies.
“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.