Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. Henry Cuellar call on Biden to appoint ‘border czar’

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are calling on President Joe Biden to appoint a “border czar” as the United States continues to see a large number of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district is along the United States’ southern border in Texas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Friday they would like Biden to appoint former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to the position.

During a press briefing Friday, Cuellar said that the Biden administration needs to listen to border communities and border patrol officials on what is happening in the region.

“They don’t need pats on the back. They need help down there on the border,” Cuellar said. “Something has to change when it comes to border immigration issues.”

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Johnson served as Homeland Security secretary from 2013 to 2017 under the Obama administration. When asked whether he would be interested in the position or has been in discussions with the lawmakers or the Biden administration about the position, Johnson replied: “I have no comment.”

Earlier this year, Roberta Jacobson, former ambassador to Mexico from 2016 to 2018, served as an advisor on the U.S.-Mexico border. She resigned from the role earlier this year, saying it was only a temporary position.

Vice President Kamala Harris earlier this year was appointed to address the root causes of migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Harris has said that her focus is on diplomatic relations with officials from those countries and Mexico, rather than a focus on the border. However in June, Harris visited El Paso, where she toured the El Paso Border Patrol station and the El Paso del Norte Port of Entry.

There has been a dramatic increase of migrant children, families and adults coming to the U.S.-Mexico border this year. The number of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border by Customs and Border Protection reached a yearly high in June of 188,829.

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Customs and Border Protection officials in the Rio Grande Valley, which includes part of Cuellar’s district, have seen the most encounters of migrants at the border. From October to June, CBP officials have encountered 331,661 migrants in the Rio Grande Valley region.

In a letter to Biden and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Cuellar and Graham cited increased COVID-19 cases in the Rio Grande Valley region among border patrol officials as a reason to have someone focus on border relations.

Despite an increased number of coronavirus cases among border patrol, the National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said in a statement Thursday that “We believe mandating a vaccine that hasn’t been fully FDA approved is wrong.”

The FDA is in the process of approving the vaccine, but an emergency use authorization was issued for the shots.

Cuellar and Graham’s request comes days after Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an order that mandates that “(no) person, other than a federal, state, or local law-enforcement official, shall provide ground transportation to a group of migrants who have been detained by (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) for crossing the border illegally or who would have been subject to expulsion under the Title 42 order.”

CBP officials have been working with local nonprofits along the border who are assisting with migrants who are coming to the United States. The new order could cause issues for the non-profits who at times transport migrants to or from their facilities.

Attorney General Merrick Garland in a letter called on Abbott to “rescind” the order. If he does not, Garland said he “intends to pursue all appropriate legal remedies to ensure that Texas does not interfere with the functions of the federal government.”

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lindsey Graham, Henry Cuellar call on Biden to appoint ‘border czar’

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