Texas Democrat calls Biden asylum restriction ‘reasonable’

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Greg Nash
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is seen during the first day of the 118th session of Congress on Tuesday, January 3, 2023.

A centrist House Democrat spoke out in favor of the Biden administration’s controversial asylum plan over the weekend, adding support to a policy proposal that’s garnered harsh criticism from immigrant advocates.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the longest-tenured member from a Texas border district, pushed back against comparisons between President Biden’s asylum plan and former President Trump’s management of the issue.

“I know some of the immigration groups are saying, ‘Oh, it’s a Trump-like rule.’ No, Trump wanted to ban people from coming in,” Cuellar told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Sunday.

Cuellar defended as “reasonable” the Biden asylum policy, which imposes severe restrictions on who can apply for asylum, but under a “rebuttable presumption” rather than an outright ban.

“People can still ask for asylum to come in,” said Cuellar.

Under Biden’s asylum proposal, many migrants are presumed ineligible for asylum if they traverse a third country without asking for protections there. The plan would generally make it harder for migrants to claim asylum upon entry into the United States.

The administration has been adamant in its defense of the policy’s human rights bona fides, pushing back against immigration advocates and many Democrats who say it’s a rehash of Trump’s transit ban.

But Cuellar says that criticism stems in part from unfamiliarity with life on the border.

“If somebody is 1,500 miles away, it is so easy for people to say, ‘Oh, yeah, let everybody in,’” Cuellar told NPR.

“But if you’re a mayor, you’re a county judge, you’re a land owner, you’re somebody down here at the border, and you see this day after day after day, then I think you’re going to have a very different perspective than somebody who’s 1,500 miles away,” he added.

Cuellar comes from a politically competitive Rio Grande Valley border district that’s both a hot spot for migrant crossings and a major focal point for trade over the border.

That mix has created a dichotomy in the area of Laredo, Texas, where business interests large and small depend on a border open to commerce, while some locals worry about the immediate effects of migrants on local communities.

That dichotomy is very present for voters in the region, said Cuellar.

“If a person thinks that the immigration activists are the only part of the Democratic base, then I think they’re wrong. I mean, yeah, they’re important. I agree. They’re a very important group,” said Cuellar.

“But like I’ve said, when we talk about the issues down here at the border, I’ve always said immigration activists are one, and I think the White House listened to them too long for one year without taking consideration to the men and women down here that have so many families down here.”

Tags Biden Donald Trump Donald Trump Henry Cuellar Henry Cuellar immigration Joe Biden

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