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Nearly $200 million is anticipated to go toward a new federal courthouse in McAllen starting in the next fiscal year.
Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) helped secure over $1 billion for the construction and land acquisition for federal courthouses in the fiscal year 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. According to a press release from Cuellar, “this funding will help construct a new federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas.”
Cuellar announced that this funding was secured in the Financial Service and General Government Subcommittee markup, and will now head to full Appropriations Committee markup, during a press conference streamed on Facebook Live on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
“Construction of a new federal courthouse in McAllen will help the federal government meet the needs of a growing caseload as well as further enhance robust change occurring in and around downtown,” Cuellar said. “This investment in the McAllen federal courthouse will create economic growth in our communities, while addressing the space constraints and aging infrastructure of the current federal courthouse. As a senior Appropriator, I will continue to fund programs that create transformational change to our community and ensure we can fulfill our duty to due process.”
Cuellar thanked Appropriations Chairwoman Lowey, Ranking Chairwoman Granger, Appropriations Financial Service Subcommittee Chairman Quigley and Ranking Member Graves for working with him to secure these funds. He said he looks forward to working with Senator John Cornyn, Senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, and Congressman Filemon Vela on this issue.
Cuellar has worked with city officials to secure a new federal courthouse for McAllen since 2010.
“I emphasize again that this is only the House side, we’ve got to work with the senate,” Cuellar said. “We want to make sure we take this across the goal line. This is some of the best news we’ve had for the McAllen courthouse.”
The Congressman secured a study in 2016 by the General Services Administration (GSA) to identify the feasibility of the construction of a new federal courthouse. The GSA study concluded that while the current facility located on U.S. Business 83 may be adequate for certain federal executive offices, the existing building is inadequate for judicial functions.
Cuellar said additional findings included security being an overall issue, especially regarding secure separation of judges, the public and prisoners. There is also not adequate room in the lobby for proper security screening.
“They’re paying rent, and there’s nothing wrong with that, that it’s being paid to a corporation in Mexico,” Cuellar said. “That building was built more for offices, not for a courthouse.”
Currently, the GSA leases 10,000 square feet for the federal court in McAllen, and it is currently insufficient for security reasons. The city of McAllen has offered to donate land for a new courthouse at the site of the old Sam Houston School, at Jackson Avenue and 16th Street, a few blocks from city hall.
McAllen and Cuellar believe the downtown location is ideal, and would help to revitalize the south side neighborhood as well as create local jobs. Cuellar said that McAllen is sixth on the list of priorities, after a head judge on the Federal Judicial Conference said they would be first.
“Politics came in from other places, and we went from one to three to four to five, and now we’re number six,” Cuellar said. “If we fund [the first five] and get to McAllen, it will fund $98 million out of the $198.4 million that we need, so it gets us halfway there.”
Cuellar pointed out that in terms of the caseload, McAllen supersedes the other municipalities listed. He said he spoke with the chairman to secure the money and make sure McAllen gets the funds.
“I want to thank the city of McAllen and the mayor, because they are willing to donate the land, which should get us moving faster than some of the places that have to pay for land,” Cuellar said. “We will work on this to make sure McAllen is included here.”
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling spoke during the conference, thanking Cuellar for his efforts.
“We’re 100 percent behind it, and we’ll continue to do that,” Darling said, noting it doesn’t make sense for the city to continue operating out of the current federal courthouse. “We made the offer to donate the land in 2015, and I want to emphasize it is a four- to five-year process.”
The federal courthouse construction program is administered by the judiciary and the General Services Administration. The judiciary establishes priorities for courtroom construction projects.
“We are going to be working very hard,” Cuellar said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be funded, but it sure looks like a good possibility and I’m going to be working on that.”