Henry Cuellar was born in Laredo, Texas on September 19, 1955, to parents who were migrant farm workers of Mexican heritage. He earned an associate’s degree in political science from Laredo Community College in 1976, a BS in foreign service from Georgetown University in 1978, a JD from the University of Texas Law School in 1981, an MBA in international trade from Texas A&M University in 1982, and a PhD in government from the University of Texas-Austin in 1998. After completing his legal studies, Cuellar opened a private law practice. He also served as an instructor in Laredo Community College’s Department of Government from 1982-86, and as an adjunct professor of International Commercial Law at Texas A&M University from 1984-86.
In 1987 Cuellar was elected to the Texas State House of Representatives, where he served until his appointment as Texas Secretary of State in 2001. In the latter position, Cuellar expanded the state’s Border/Mexico Affairs office in order to help the residents of Texas-based colonias — unincorporated, low-income neighborhoods near America’s southern border, wherein illegal aliens and their children typically lived in substandard housing.
In 2004, the voters of Texas’s 28th Congressional District elected Cuellar to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he continues to serve as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He also has held seats on the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Cuellar has long supported the DREAM Act, legislation that aims to legalize and eventually naturalize a large number of so-called “Dreamers” — illegal-alien teens and young adults who first came to the United States as minors. “I hope we can pass the Dream Act, and I’m going to do everything possible [to make that happen]” Cuellar said in 2017.
In 2014, Cuellar told The Hill that he would vote against any Republican border-security bill if it included a provision to reverse former President Barack Obama‘s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, which had conferred temporary protection from deportation upon some 800,000 Dreamers. When President Trump in 2017 sought to phase out the DACA program, Cuellar argued in favor of saving it, claiming that “100 percent” of the Dreamers “have no criminal record,” and that “91 percent [of them] have full-time employment.” “It would be wrong,” the congressman explained, to pass “an anti-immigrant law” designed to “kick out” so many “very qualified” people, particularly in light of their willingness to take agricultural “jobs [that] no Americans want.” “We can’t close the nation to bright individuals that can contribute to our community,” Cuellar added, nor “punish them for the [immigration-related] sins of their parents.”
Cuellar is opposed to the construction of a border wall that would stem the northward flow of illegal migrants from Mexico into the United States. In a January 2018 op-ed at CNN.com, he wrote that building such a wall would not “address the illicit trafficking of people and narcotics,” and that illegal activity at the border could be stopped only by “the use of modern technology” and “increased border personnel.” Three months later, Cuellar stated that the presence of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would cause the residents of “border communities” to “lose their property” and have their lives disrupted “for no other reason than for political theater.”
Distinguishing himself from the vast majority of his colleagues in the Democratic Party and the CHC, Cuellar broke from the majority in his party in November 2015, when he was one of only 47 Democrats to support legislation designed to increase the stringency of the background-check process vis-a-vis refugees hailing from the war-torn, terrorism-ravaged nation of Syria. “It just provides more vetting to make sure that we are a compassionate country,” said Cuellar, “but at the same time … [helps] to certify [that] whoever comes into the United States is not a risk to the country.”
Cuellar likewise broke from the Democrat majority by opposing the existence of sanctuary cities, where illegal aliens are protected by local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. “I don’t believe in sanctuary cities,” he said in a 2018 interview, noting that no such places existed in his own congressional district. Moreover, Cuellar stated that his own brother was a border sheriff who upheld Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers for illegal aliens.
On the evening of January 19, 2021, FBI agents raided Cuellar’s Laredo, Texas home and campaign headquarters in connection to a federal grand jury investigation of ties between several U.S. businessmen and the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation on the Caspian Sea. As co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, a group dedicated to nurturing American relations with Azerbaijan, Cuellar had been involved in numerous meetings with Azerbaijan officials, including the country’s ambassador to the United States, Elin Suleymanov. Though the FBI would not say whether Cuellar himself was personally a target of the probe, the congressman vowed to cooperate fully with the Bureau. While the raid was in progress between January 19 and 20, federal agents could be seen photographing trucks parked outside of the congressman’s home and removing boxes, bins, bags, and a computer from the residence. As the Daily Mail noted: “Azerbaijan has been harshly criticized in the past for bribing foreign officials and diplomats to secure its foreign policy aims and legitimize dubious election results. The practice is so common in the country that it is known there as ‘caviar diplomacy,’ but it is unclear whether the FBI is investigating any similar allegations in relation to Cuellar.”
During an April 22, 2022 appearance on the Fox News Channel’s Your World, Cuellar, acknowledging the likelihood that President Biden would soon terminate Title 42, said the following about the situation at America’s southern border:
“[T]he metric that I think they’re looking at is, how do we move the migrants faster from the border to the interior? And I don’t think that’s a plan, with all due respect. And this is why there [are] other Democrat senators and congressmen that have a problem. Because what we’re seeing is it’s literally an open border. It’s an open border. And the more people coming across and then Title 42 goes away, the numbers are going to definitely increase. And we’re going to see a situation where Border Patrol is going to continue to be overwhelmed.”
As for Cuellar’s positions on a variety of key political and social issues, he:
● strongly favors government-enforced affirmative-action policies designed to compensate nonwhites and women for the effects of past and present discrimination;
● strongly believes that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) should be expanded, and that a government-run, single-payer system would solve most health-care problems;
● strongly opposes the implementation of voucher programs designed to promote school choice;
● strongly favors the elimination of Voter ID laws, on the premise that they are racist schemes designed to make it unnecessarily difficult for nonwhites and the poor to vote in political elections; and
● strongly favors the use of federal funds and direct federal job-creation measures to help the U.S. economy recover from recession, rather than entrusting the recovery to free-market forces.
For an overview of Cuellar’s voting record on a variety of key issues, click here.
Further Reading: “Biography” (Cuellar.house.gov); “Henry Cuellar Said Dreamer Program Will Cause ‘Civil War’ for Republicans” (Washington Times, 9-5-2017); “Congressman Henry Cuellar on DACA” (Fox News, 9-6-2017); “The Answer to Border Security is Technology, Not Wall” (by Henry Cuellar, CNN, 1-11-2018); “Why This Texas Democrat Voted for More Refugee Background Checks” (KUT.org, 11-20-2015).