Cuellar supports Safe Third Country agreement with Mexico

McALLEN — Amid the outcry over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar expressed support Monday for an agreement with Mexico that would force asylum-seeking migrants to first request help from Mexico.

Cuellar, D-Laredo, said during a news conference Monday that U.S. officials are in talks to enter into a Safe Third County agreement with Mexico similar to one the U.S. currently holds with Canada. Such an agreement would require asylum seekers to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in.

“If somebody is in a country and they’re claiming fear, and they’ve passed two, three countries to get over here and in those countries they could have claimed asylum … then when they get to the United States that would be taken in consideration,” Cuellar said during a news conference Monday. “The U.S. and Mexico are having that conversation right now. Unfortunately, President Trump is not the best advocate for Mexico.”

What that means for asylum seekers coming to the U.S., Cuellar said, is that the number of them could decrease.

“That is a big shift that we could have in our immigration,” he added.

His support for such an agreement came amid remarks over the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which has gained national attention over its separation of children from their parents along the border.

This week, the appropriations committee, of which Cuellar is a member, will be meeting on the $750 mil-lion he helped secure for Central American countries.

“Even now, the monies haven’t gotten there for the assistance,” Cuellar said. “The state department has not done a very good job of getting that money to them, and we’ll be addressing that issue on Wednesday morning.”

The committee will also be discussing amendments to appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The ORR takes custody of the children who have been separated from the parents as well as those that arrived unaccompanied at the border.

Those amendments, Cuellar said, will be to ensure better communication with parents and their attorneys when the kids are separated and how they are treated.