New U.S.-Mexico Border Agreement Henry Cuellar, a Democratic Congressman from Texas, maintained contact with Mexico's leaders as they negotiated a deal to avoid tariffs from the U.S. He talks with NPR's Michel Martin about the deal.
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New U.S.-Mexico Border Agreement

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New U.S.-Mexico Border Agreement

New U.S.-Mexico Border Agreement

New U.S.-Mexico Border Agreement

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Henry Cuellar, a Democratic Congressman from Texas, maintained contact with Mexico's leaders as they negotiated a deal to avoid tariffs from the U.S. He talks with NPR's Michel Martin about the deal.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start their program with the new agreement between the United States and Mexico that is supposed to reduce the flow of would-be migrants to the U.S. southwestern border. Last night, President Trump announced on Twitter that the two countries had a deal and that the tariffs he had threatened to impose on Mexican goods were, quote, unquote, "indefinitely suspended." Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar represents the 28th District of Texas, which ends at the U.S.-Mexico border. He's been in contact with U.S. and Mexican officials as they negotiated this deal, and he is with us now.

Congressman, welcome. Thank you so much for talking to us.

HENRY CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: So the State Department put out a joint statement last night. It said in part that - I'm quoting here - "Mexico will take unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration" - end quote. And those steps include deploying its National Guard to Mexico's southern border. So what other actions does the U.S. expect Mexico to take?

CUELLAR: Well, let's keep in mind that Mexico right now is stopping about 250,000 people a year on the southern border. That is, they hold them, and they deport them back on the southern border. So that's a quarter of a million people that would be coming to the United States.

You know, I assume they're going to hopefully stop some of those buses where they have people coming in from the southern border, and they get quickly to the United States, or if it's a caravan walking that they will start dispersing those caravans. And I've heard that in the last couple of days, that is what they're doing. They're holding people more in the southern border. And I think that's one way they're going to be helping the U.S.

The other part is, you know, Michel, is the fact that some of the seekers for asylum - they're going to, quote, "expand that a little bit more." And that's some details that I certainly will be getting information this coming week.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's one of the things I wanted to ask you about. For example, the agreement also calls for an expansion of the migrant protections protocols. But the U.S. says it's planning to rapidly - they use this word in the agreement - return asylum seekers who cross from Mexico back to Mexico while their claims are being processed. But the asylum process in the U.S. is already incredibly overloaded or backlogged. I'm not sure what else - other word to use. So how is this exactly going to be handled? Do you have any concerns about how this process will unfold?

CUELLAR: Well, as you know, some of those folks are told to wait on the other side - that is, on the Mexican side - as those claims are being processed. So when they say expand, I assume they're going to be having a lot more people there on the Mexican side. And as you know, that becomes a burden for Mexico. Mexico is not as rich as we are here in the U.S. The resources are a lot less. So that means that while those folks are there, somebody has to pay for food, housing, medical expenses for them. So that's a burden that Mexico will be taking.

MARTIN: And speaking of money, the Trump administration wants more money for the border. And I understand that many congressional Democrats are concerned about how that money will be used, and they want some strict guidelines. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has gone on record about their concerns about this. But you - and you're a member of the caucus, but you've also been open to negotiating with the administration on funding.

How do you want to see additional funds used? And do you have any concerns about - I mean, do you share the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' concerns that they want some specific instruction about how that money will be specifically spent?

CUELLAR: Well, I sit on the Appropriations Committee, and I'm the vice chair of the Homeland Appropriations. And we work with our appropriators to make sure that if we say this money's going to be spent this way that it will be spent a particular way. So we've talked to the Hispanic Caucus. I'm a member of the Hispanic Caucus. But we certainly have talked to some of the members that have a distrust of the Trump administration. And, again, I don't blame some of them because we know what President Trump has done lately or for a while, shall I say.

So we've been having conversations to make sure that they understand that, you know, the appropriators and especially, you know, the - our leaders in the appropriations, Nita Lowey and Lucille Allard and the other folks working on it that we are going to make sure that, if we put money for humanitarian care, that it will be spent for that particular purpose.

MARTIN: And you've noted on a number of occasions just in this conversation that there are some details that yet to be - that are yet to be worked out. There's concern that things are a bit open-ended. It isn't clear what'll happen if either side doesn't live up to what has been agreed to. But the president's, you know, utterances about this have been positive - more positive than they have been, you know, in some time.

How do you see this agreement? I mean, do you see this as possibly the beginning of a more constructive conversation about long-term solutions? Or do you see this as kind of a momentary - this particular crisis-averted moment?

CUELLAR: Well, I think we all understand the Trump administration. You know, the Homeland Secretary Kevin McAleenan's a friend of mine. I know him. I've been working with the new CBP commissioner. And, you know, when they say that they need moneys because they're running out of moneys to provide humanitarian care, then, you know, we are going to work with them.

As appropriators, we can make sure we put the right language there that the money will be used for humanitarian purposes and, of course, for reimbursements for the local communities and nonprofits that have really gone out of the way to handle thousands and thousands of individuals.

Now, there are other communities that are about 150-60 miles away from the border that are seeing the same thing where Border Patrol is dropping off individuals in places like San Antonio, Texas. The city of San Antonio is now facing a situation where they put money out of their pocket to help address some of these issues where they're dropping off people basically in the thousands of them at bus stations, and somebody has to come in and handle this. And I think if we just sit down and talk to each other and understand what the basic contours of this agreement will be, I feel confident that we can get this done.

MARTIN: That is Congressman Henry Cuellar. He represents the 28th District of Texas, which ends at the U.S.-Mexico border, and we reached him at home in the district.

Congressman, thanks so much for talking to us.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much, Michel. You have a good one.

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