Sen. Cornyn assures federal reimbursement coming soon for McAllen’s migrant aid costs

Walking through a warehouse in Weslaco on Monday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn turned to McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and asked the same question officials at city hall have been asking for years: When will the city receive its federal reimbursement?

McAllen officials submitted a request last month to the federal government in hopes of receiving reimbursement for a chunk of the money the city has spent to assist Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in caring for asylum-seeking migrants who are dropped off by federal authorities in downtown McAllen. After all, Catholic Charities has already received $601,557.88, which Cornyn praised on Friday.

“Not yet,” Darling told Cornyn.

“It’s coming,” Cornyn said of the reimbursement money.

Since 2014, Catholic Charities, with assistance from other nonprofits and the city of McAllen, has temporarily taken in asylum-seeking migrants who are dropped off downtown by federal authorities as the migrants await the asylum process.

This has played out for years in other border cities as well, with nonprofits and municipalities spending money on migrant aid, but the legislation passed this summer allowed only for reimbursement applications for costs incurred during the first six months of 2019.

The city of McAllen and other nonprofit organizations submitted their applications in September, and in early October, Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, announced several reimbursements, and McAllen was not included. On Wednesday, Cornyn reassured McAllen that reimbursement funds from the $30 million legislative package that Congress authorized this summer is on the way.

“I talked to Mayor Darling in McAllen and he told me that he had not yet received notice for how much money McAllen will be receiving,” Cornyn told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. “I’m sure Mayor Darling and other local municipalities and non-governmental organizations are looking forward to the second round of funding that will be announced soon.”

The first round of funding announcements included $108,371.25 for McAllen’s Salvation Army Corps Center and $2,599.32 for the United Way of South Texas, both of which pitched in during the first six months — the only months eligible for the reimbursement — of the year when federal authorities released large groups of asylum-seeking migrants in McAllen.

Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, announced the first round of federal reimbursements earlier this month and most were for the non-profit organizations, such as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. But the City of San Antonio was also on that list, for a reimbursement of $280,201.75.

So what’s the hold up on a reimbursement for McAllen?

“I think it’s more of a bureaucratic issue,” Cornyn said. “There’s a second round that will basically pay out the remainder of the funds that are available. I fully expect that McAllen and Mayor Darling will be happy to get money in that second round.”