One recent report indicates that the Biden administration is not consulting with state governments most affected by the crisis that is unfolding at the Southwest border, while another suggests that the federal government is playing fast and loose with its depiction of the conditions of confinement of migrant children apprehended there. Both reveal that politics is worsening an already a bad situation.
On May 6, RealClearPolitics (RCP) detailed complaints from governors Greg Abbott (R) of Texas and Doug Ducey (R) of Arizona about the Biden team’s failure to communicate with them on the federal government’s efforts to control the border between their states and Mexico.
That’s a problem, because most illegal migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol this year have been picked up in Texas and Arizona.
Of the more than 550,000 aliens apprehended at the Southwest border in FY 2021, for example, almost 160,000 (including almost 21,000 unaccompanied alien children and more than 52,000 migrants making the perilous trek as families) were caught in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande sector.
Rio Grande sector is in the southernmost point of the Lone Star State, where the Southwest border starts at the Gulf of Mexico. Detention and processing of those families and children occurs in Texas, and — given their large numbers — Governor Abbott has a vested interest in both their welfare and the safety of his border communities.
Abbott complained that neither President Biden nor Vice President (and border czar) Kamala Harris has spoken to him to update him on the situation at that border.
While it appears from the RCP reporting that the administration has been in contact with congressional representatives from Texas and Arizona, and various state officials, there does not appear to have been much one-on-one between the White House and the two governors.
Ducey, for his part, has apparently reached out to request that the Biden administration send troops to the border to help out CBP and ICE (as both Presidents Bush and President Obama did), but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
I understand that politics is politics, and that Republicans Abbott and Ducey have been burrs under the saddle of Democrat Biden’s border efforts. But he is the “President of the United States”, not just those states whose electors cast their votes for him (as Arizonans actually did), or whose chief executives say nice things about him or share his membership in the “Party of Jackson”.
If the border is like the nation’s skin, border chaos is like a wound, and right now, Arizona and Texas (in particular) are receiving some pretty deep cuts. It may take a while before those lacerations are felt in D.C., but border communities in Texas and Arizona need a big Band-Aid, quick — not silence and indifference from the White House.
Which brings me to Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar. He, too, is a Democrat.
Despite his political affiliation, however, Cuellar has been a critic of Biden’s performance in handling the border crisis (as I reported on May 5). Likely for good reason: His Texas 28th congressional district covers a huge swath of the border, and includes the Rio Grande counties of Webb (home to Laredo), Zapata, and Starr. Cuellar hasn’t been shy about stating his concerns.
On May 2, DHS sent out photos from its processing facility in Donna, Texas. Those pictures, under the header “DHS Action on the Southwest Border Yields Results”, show largely empty tents with just a few children sleeping under Mylar blankets, in stark contrast to photos from March 17.
In those earlier pics, children are wrapped up in those blankets and crammed into tightly packed rows, with adults seated on metal benches to the side. Those March photos are similar to ones Cuellar took at that facility in late March to illustrate the “terrible conditions for the children” at Donna.
Problem solved, right? On March 4, White House press secretary Jen Psaki wanted to paint that picture, asserting that: "The amount of time children spend in CBP custody is down 75 percent from 131 hours at the end of March to under 30 hours now".
Not so fast, according to Cuellar. As Fox News put it on May 6, he “lashed out ..., accusing the administration of posting misleading photos from” the Donna facility.
The outlet quoted Cuellar, who stated: “All they’re doing is, they’re moving kids from one tent to the other tent and saying, ‘Oh, they’re not in the Border Patrol (custody)."
Citing Cuellar, Fox News reported that the children who had been in the DHS Donna facility were simply sent “next door” to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
DHS admits that the kids are in HHS custody, but won’t say where. You are paying for their detention (at a cost of $62 million per week, and likely climbing fast), so don’t you think you should know where that money is going, and see pictures of the conditions of detention for children in HHS shelters, too?
Unlike Abbott and Ducey, Cuellar is not a man whose complaints the president or other Democrats can easily dismiss.
Democrats currently hold a slim six-seat advantage on Republicans in the House of Representatives (they will likely be up 222 to 213 after some special elections are decided). The 2022 election is 18 months off, but the GOP has some pluses heading into the mid-terms, so Democrats need him.
That won’t necessarily be easy. Cuellar is highly unlikely to switch parties, and he won reelection by more than 45,000 votes (a 19.3 percent margin of victory) in 2020. That said, he had more than 110 times as much funding ($2.7 million to $25,000) as his underfunded Republican opponent last time, so he should have run her out of the gym. He may not have that money edge next time.
And, as Texas gets two more seats in the House next term following the decennial census, the GOP is in control of the redistricting process there. Republicans have already targeted Cuellar’s current seat for a pick-up.
Plus, Cuellar sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee (he is one of 33 Democrats and 25 Republicans — no, the difference between total seats and committee assignments does not make sense), which has the “power of the purse” to decide how much money the executive branch will receive.
More saliently, he is one of seven Democrats on that committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee (there are four Republicans), so he has a lot of sway on how much money Border Patrol gets, and how they spend it.
Playing politics at the border is a tricky business in the best of scenarios, but if the Biden administration is hiding the truth to peddle a rosy narrative, it will likely fail. And if it’s freezing out border state governors over partisan issues, it is failing the president’s constituents who feel the pain of chaos there in their communities first, and most keenly.