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Congressman Henry Cuellar says Biden's rule to restrict asylum is 'reasonable'

President Joe Biden talks with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, as they walk along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso Texas, last month.
Andrew Harnik
/
AP
President Joe Biden talks with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, as they walk along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso Texas, last month.

Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district includes parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, has long been critical of how Republicans and Democrats have dealt with immigration.

But he says a new asylum rule proposed by the Biden administration is a "reasonable" way to deal with the record number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The rule, which was proposed last week, would presume that migrants are ineligible for asylum if they cross illegally, don't ask for protection in countries they pass, and don't notify U.S. authorities of their intention to seek asylum through a mobile app.

Immigration rights advocates have criticized the rule as a violation of President Biden's own promises to restore asylum and have compared it to a Trump-era asylum ban.

Congressman Cuellar says the number of migrants arriving at the southern border is overwhelming local officials and resources.

"If somebody is 1,500 miles away, it is so easy for people to say, 'Oh, yeah, let everybody in,' " he says.

"But if you're a mayor, you're a county judge, you're a landowner, you're somebody down here at the border — and you see this day after day after day... you're going to have a very different perspective. I think I'm speaking for my community [when I say] we just want to have order."

Below are highlights from Cueller's interview with All Things Considered on Sunday, edited for length and clarity.

On how he responds to criticism that the proposed rule is similar to Trump immigration policies, like the so-called "Remain in Mexico" program:

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. All this is asking is that it would be an unlawful pathway to get into the U.S. People can still ask for asylum to come in.

On whether this rule change could alienate Democrats who support a more expansive approach to immigration:

If a person thinks that the immigration activists are the only part of the Democratic base, then they're wrong. They are a very important group. But like I've said, when we talk about the issues down here at the border, I've always said immigration activists are one [voice]. And I think the White House listened to them too long without taking consideration to the men and women down here that have so many families down here.

Who's listening to the border communities? When a rule like this comes out, the media automatically goes to the immigration activist. Who calls the border mayor in Webb County or in Starr County or in El Paso? Or who calls the county judges or the mayors or the sheriffs down here?

On the exceptions to the asylum rule for migrants arriving from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela:

You can return some people that don't qualify for asylum easier to a lot of countries. But there are countries where our relationships are not good: Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti. It's a different situation there. So if the countries are not going to take them, then I think we need to figure out how we can try to help those folks, but still screen every person that comes in to make sure that there are no reasons for keeping them out.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Tinbete Ermyas