[CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that the daily cost for Carrizo Springs is nearly $1 million.)
LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — A bipartisan Texas two-some of Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar toured a South Texas facility on Friday where unaccompanied migrant children are being held, and then they held a roundtable discussion with border leaders in Laredo in which Cornyn compared the immigration situation on the border to a “Category 5 hurricane.”
After the 90-minute roundtable, Cuellar announced in a press conference that the Texas capital city of Austin is joining the list of cities where undocumented migrants are being released by federal officials. Citing officials with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, Cuellar said if the migrants are processed through the South Texas detention facilities in Karnes City and/or Dilley they are heading to Austin.
“We were told this morning, confirmed that they are dropped at San Antonio and Austin. This is from ERO,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee expressed frustration that the Biden administration is not being as transparent or forthcoming with information to local border officials, or the public. And he said they need to tell border communities, and U.S. citizens what is really going on as migration rates surge on the South Texas border.
“I think people need to know. Because I saw that under Obama. I saw that under Trump and now I’m seeing it under Biden where they start releasing people into neighborhoods and bus stations and people need to know. And I don’t care if it’s a Democratic or Republican president, they need to let the communities know and work with the cities and the NGOs,” Cuellar said.
The two — which repeatedly stressed that they represent both sides of the political aisle — said they came down to be the eyes and ears for the public.
On Friday morning, they visited a detention facility for migrant teens in Carrizo Springs, Texas, where they said has 952 beds ready to accept unaccompanied children ages 13-17. The facility is run by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
They said the daily cost is $800 per bed and the federal government is required to pay for all beds, whether filled or not, and that brings the daily price tag to almost $1 million.
Cuellar said they spoke to several migrant children who came because they had heard from others in Central America that the U.S. border was open under President Joe Biden. And he said that is part of the problem that is drawing thousands to the border right now.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection this week released apprehension statistics from February that showed over 100,441 migrants were taken in by Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border, and Cuellar said much of that is happening in South Texas. And because of Mexican officials in the state of Tamaulipas refusing to accept back children under “tender age” of 7, hundreds of families with young children are being released each day from detention facilities and from Border Patrol custody.
The unaccompanied minors, however, are kept in Carrizo Springs, which is about 225 miles north of McAllen, Texas, and Cuellar said they are given schooling, have access to legal services, given medical care and are “tested several times” for coronavirus.
“No they are not held in cages but they are well kept,” Cuellar said.
But the real concern for border communities, and those receiving released migrant families, however, is that those families are not being tested for coronavirus by CBP officials who have told Border Report they lack the resources to do so.
Criticism has been mounting as Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has refused federal resources to administer and send additional COVID test kits to CBP and Border Patrol agents. And during a visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday he reiterated that he does not believe that is the state’s responsbility.
Cuellar said in the past he has worked in DC to pass legislation for an “end-around” Gov. Abbott — such as 2019 when he was able to get FEMA funds to reimburse border communities and nonprofits for helping migrants, despite Abbott’s refusal to send the FEMA monies.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz was among the 25 leaders who attended the roundtable discussion at Texas A&M International University, which included representatives from nonprofits, city managers and clergy. Saenz said that lawmakers in Washington need to pay more attention to border communities, which are suffering from collateral damage.
“Usually what Washington structures by way of policies we’re the recipients of it. We usually take what Washington does and we suffer the consequences,” Saenz said. “It’s a tug of war and the border usually feels those pains and repercussions.”
“It’s a tug of war and the border usually feels those pains and repercussions.”Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz
Saenz said Laredo currently is receiving about 75 undocumented migrants from CBP officials per day, but they fear it could be hundreds per day soon.
Cornyn said he spoke with a caretaker of the children in Carrizo Springs who likened the immigration situation to “a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf with tropical storm-force winds on the coast.” And to that, Cornyn said of the situation: “It’s coming. Everyone we’ve heard from today said this is just the beginning unless we step up and do something about it.”
A Republican-led delegation is expected to tour El Paso on Monday and Cuellar said a Democratic-led delegation is expected to tour South Texas within the next month.
Border Report has requested a tour of the Carrizo Springs detention facility but HHS officials said that due to the coronavirus pandemic they are not allowing media to tour the facility.