House to vote on bill that includes reimbursements for migrant aid

Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX28) speaks to US Border Patrol agents and their families before awarding 9 US Border Patrol agents with the Congressional Certificates of Recognition for their acts of bravery on the job during a ceremony at the McAllen Border Patrol Station June 22, 2015 in McAllen. photo by joel martinez/jmartinez@themonitor.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on legislation that would include $60 million for reimbursements to local governments and non-governmental organizations that have spent money on migrant aid since Jan. 1.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, introduced this legislation in the House, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, which is expected to vote Thursday on its bill, including the reimbursement funding, Cuellar told reporters Monday.

Border cities like McAllen and non-governmental organizations like Catholic Charities have spent millions of dollars on aiding immigrants since 2014, when a surge of Central American migrants began crossing the border, especially into South Texas. In the McAllen area, after Border Patrol agents apprehended the immigrants and detained them briefly, the authorities then dropped them off at the downtown McAllen bus station, where workers for Catholic Charities waited.

After a brief stay at a Catholic Charities-run facility in McAllen, the migrants would then depart, mostly by bus, to other cities in the United States to meet with family members or sponsors as they await an immigration court date. McAllen has assisted Catholic Charities since 2014.

That routine has mostly continued to this day, and the city has spent $1.2 million on migrant aid assistance since 2014, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said. But Cuellar’s legislation only accounts for costs incurred since Jan. 1. For McAllen’s part, it spent $82,458 on migrant aid from Jan. 1 through June 9, according to city records. Of that total, $57,674 came from the Parks and Recreation department.

The funds in Cuellar’s legislation come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through a grant, Cuellar said, and governments and NGOs will be able to apply. In previous years, when McAllen has applied for federal reimbursements related to migrant aid costs, the funds have been funneled through the state government, to which McAllen also had to apply. It didn’t go smoothly.

“It should’ve worked well if we had a state government that worked with us,” Cuellar said.

If the legislation passes both chambers of Congress, it calls for the funds to begin disbursement within 30 days of the bill being signed into law by the president. Cornyn’s bill, however, calls for $30 million in reimbursement funds. That time “in between Tuesday and Thursday” — when Senators are expected to vote on Cornyn’s bill — “is going to be very important.”

It the legislation has hopes of passing, a compromise is likely.

“Hopefully we can work out the differences between the House and the Senate,” Cuellar said. He added: “We really want to get this done by Thursday because the offices are running out of money down there.”

mferman@themonitor.com