City still seeks money for aiding immigrants

July 14, 2017

McALLEN — As Gov. Greg Abbott prepares to campaign for re-election here Saturday, Mayor Jim Darling said Thursday he plans to ask the governor why he has withheld a federal reimbursement to the City of McAllen.

The city has spent a half-million dollars on immigration humanitarian aid since 2014 and has not been reimbursed by the federal government. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Henry Cuellar, the Laredo Democrat, have been working to get McAllen compensated. The money is stuck with Abbott, Cuellar said.

Abbott’s office has said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency informed them that McAllen’s expenses are not eligible for reimbursement using current appropriations. However, the Houston Chronicle reported that FEMA officials said humanitarian relief costs are reimbursable.

“If they want clarification from FEMA, we’re going to get that,” Cuellar said in an interview with The Monitor. “Ultimately, this is a one-time thing. I don’t know why has become such a problem.”

Cuellar said he included language in an appropriations bill to get this money to the state, which Cornyn is also aware of.

“Sen. Cornyn has been working with the city, FEMA, and Rep. Cuellar and to achieve a positive resolution,” a Cornyn aide told The Monitor.

Cuellar said the state simply has to “follow the instructions I put in” to the legislation. Earmarks do not exist anymore, so money can not be held for a specific case, as has happened in the past.

“If we had earmarks, they’d have the money a long time ago,” Cuellar said.

Darling and City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez have said the city has been actively seeking reimbursement, but Darling said Thursday he has not yet had a chance to personally talk with Abbott about it. Darling said before the recent state legislative session, which ended in May, that the city would keep pressing the state for the money.

“We’ll continue to seek reimbursements,” Darling said at a November 2016 city commission meeting. “Until the United States decides to do something about its immigration policy and foreign policy in Central America, we do think it’s a continuation of the process. CBP cooperates with us; otherwise we’d have people walking around the city of McAllen at night with no place to go, and/or worse.

“No. 1, I don’t think there’s an alternative to what we’re doing. No. 2, I think we are doing a service to Dallas and Houston and everywhere else people are going because they leave here in better conditions than they’re delivered to our bus station. And thank God they don’t leave the way they arrived after their long journey to get here.”