Godfrey: You’re in a district that runs along a huge chunk of the U.S.-Mexico border, so let’s talk about immigration. Cuellar has called for tightened border security, but he has criticized Trump’s idea of building a wall (while supporting it locally). Where should that increased funding go?
Cisneros: People I’ve met with in Starr County, which is part of the district, are very frustrated and betrayed. They feel betrayed, because the congressman wasn’t fighting for their property [from being usurped for the wall]. I spoke to two women who are leading the fight down there, and they feel very frustrated because the land that their family has been living on for six generations, literally the border crosses it. They’re about to lose it. And Cuellar might be saying one thing, that he doesn’t support the wall and that he’s standing up to Trump, but his votes really do say a different story.
If you were to actually come down here and visit those areas where the wall is going to be built, it’s definitely some of the most peaceful and serene places I’ve seen in my entire life. It’s not necessary to be investing all these millions of dollars, or tens of millions of dollars, into something that’s not necessary. The border area really does need an increase in funding, but not to build a hateful symbol such as the wall.
Godfrey: What do you think that increased funding should go toward?
Cisneros: I think it should go toward our health care or investing in the infrastructure down here that we truly need. There are places in South Texas and along the border called colonias, areas of the United States where there are no paved roads, no streetlights, sometimes no drainage, no plumbing. That’s where we should be investing our money—into our people. Helping small businesses start and, again, health care, because unfortunately Texas has some of the highest rates of uninsured people. And South Texas has some of the highest rates of poverty. For us to access our health care, we have to go into Mexico. People who have diabetes have to go get their insulin over there. So many of us go over there to go get dental work done, or to check up with the doctor, because we can’t afford it here. So to me, that’s where money should be going, to make sure that our communities have what they need to succeed.
Godfrey: Republicans have said that Democrats want open borders. What do you think about that criticism? How do you think about border security?
Cisneros: That’s obviously a Republican talking point. I think that there’s something definitely between open borders and the blatant human-rights violations that we see today under the Trump administration. In the system that we have right now, people are being turned away [at the border] when they’re properly seeking asylum under the laws that Congress has passed; they’ve been doing it the right way. The most frustrating thing, especially as an immigration attorney, and knowing exactly how these laws interact, is that the only person in this who’s circumventing the law is our president, Donald Trump. He’s the one who is basically not paying attention to the laws that Congress has passed before. Instead, he’s unilaterally denying these people humanitarian relief. So I think that’s what we should be looking to and not use the open-borders argument as a distraction to actually not pay attention to the violations of law that this administration is doing.