WASHINGTON — Two border-district Democrats from Texas facing stiff headwinds for reelection are pressing to keep in place Title 42, bucking fellow Hispanic lawmakers who will meet Monday afternoon with President Joe Biden.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, warned Sunday that lifting the emergency order, which has barred migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, will only accelerate the border crisis — and make it harder for South Texas Democrats to attract voters.
“Some of the actions by the administration are not helping Democrats, certainly in South Texas, when it comes to oil and gas [and] immigration policies,” Cuellar said on Fox News Sunday. “Who’s listening to the border communities? That’s my question.”
Cuellar and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, both criticize Biden for setting a May 23 expiration for Title 42, a policy invoked by the Trump administration two years ago at the outset of the pandemic.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus heads to the White House on Monday and the border crisis is likely a top agenda item.
“The rest of them are going to say go ahead and lift it,” Cuellar said.
Democratic senators and gubernatorial candidates facing competitive races in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire have also been distancing themselves and warning that border crossings, already at record levels, will surge once Title 42 is lifted.
Immigrant advocates viewed Trump’s use of Title 42 as a pretext for his goal of curbing migration, and were appalled that Biden prolonged it.
Republicans have universally blasted Biden for reversing course.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, a former chair of the Homeland Security Committee, predicted a flood of 500,000 migrants crossing the border illegally in five weeks once Title 42 is lifted.
That’s on top of 2.5 million people who have crossed illegally since Biden took office, a record-setting pace that McCaul characterized as an invasion.
These pictures show the effects of border patrol facilities that are overcrowded and overwhelmed with the sheer number of migrants arriving at our southern border.
Title 42 is critical to ensuring the health and safety of migrants, law enforcement, and border residents. pic.twitter.com/YLQawIA7SH
— Rep. Henry Cuellar (@RepCuellar) April 22, 2022
“My state of Texas, we just simply can’t absorb this,” McCaul said on Fox News Sunday, appearing separately from Cuellar, with whom he has worked for years on border security.
“I was over in Poland for God sakes,” he added. “Look at all the Ukrainians coming out. It’s almost a similar amount, 2.5 million people, although in that case, they want to go back home. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin invaded Ukraine. We have an invasion in my home state, right on the border, every day.”
Cuellar is seeking a 10th term in Congress from a district that runs from Laredo to San Antonio. Last month, immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros forced him into a runoff in the Democratic primary. She came within 1,000 votes, trailing 48.7% to 46.7%.
The runoff is May 24. Some of the party’s leading progressives, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been helping the challenger. Cuellar is among the most conservative Democrats in Congress, departing from party orthodoxy on abortion rights and publicly opposing Biden on oil and gas policy and border security.
In January, the FBI raided Cuellar’s home and office, reportedly in connection with an investigation involving Azerbaijan and some American businessmen.
Cuellar has denied wrongdoing. His lawyer said recently that the FBI says he is not a target.
Asked Sunday why the FBI conducted the raid, Cuellar offered no explanation, instead reiterating that “we will cooperate if there’s any questions on that issue.”
He complained of “mixed messages,” with international travelers still required to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test even as the White House ditches Title 42 as if “at the border, everything’s fine.”
Gonzalez’s political challenges are somewhat different.
Republicans have made inroads in South Texas under Trump that caught many Democrats off-guard. Gonzalez eked out a narrow 3-point win in 2020 in what had been a safe McAllen-based district.
Then the Legislature redrew the map, dimming his prospects further in 2022.
The retirement of Brownsville Democrat Filemon Vela gave Gonzalez the chance to jump to a neighboring district with a wider Democratic margin. But it’s new territory for him and Republicans say they won’t readily cede it.
Gonzalez has called on Biden to “rethink” the decision to end Title 42, criticizing the lack of consultation with border communities “and refusal to acknowledge the real-life impact on South Texans.”
Border Patrol and border communities are “wholly unprepared to handle a surge in irregular migration at our Southern Border in a humane, safe, and orderly way,” he said earlier this month in a statement.