U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo

The McAllen federal courthouse is one step closer to a much-needed renovation, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said Wednesday.

Cuellar, D-Laredo, announced during a news conference Wednesday that $1 billion in the 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill was secured for seven courthouse renovations across the nation.

If the bill is passed in the Senate, part of that funding will go toward the McAllen federal courthouse, which is currently sixth in line for construction.

Though McAllen’s federal courthouse is second to last on the list, it ranks first in highest caseload — a clear indicator to Cuellar that the local federal courthouse should be the utmost priority regarding court construction.

“McAllen has been dropping, when we should have been number one on this,” the congressman, a member of the U.S Appropriations Committee, said.

The courthouse of Hartford, Connecticut, which handled 160 cases last year, is currently listed as a top priority. Meanwhile, McAllen’s court went through 2,282 cases in 2019.

In addition to heavy caseload, another reason reconstruction for the McAllen’s federal courthouse has become urgent and imperative, Cuellar said, is because of the building’s infrastructure.

Since 1987, the courts have leased space in the Bentsen Tower downtown — a glass, multi-level building originally designed for office space.

In a 2017 study directed by Cuellar and executed by the U.S. General Service Administration, it was found that though the building is adequate for judicial functions, it insufficiently serves as a space for the courts.

The building’s infrastructure has led to many safety concerns as a courthouse, including a small lobby area, and security issues, especially that of secure separation of judges, the public and prisoners.

Of the $1 billion allocation, $198.46 million is secured for McAllen’s federal courthouse. Though, the project may need less following the city’s donation of the land, speeding up the renovation process in the case that the bill is approved by the Senate.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was on the call, and expressed the same concern as the congressman for the building’s renovations, and the safety hazards on the line.

“Not only is it inconvenient and inefficient, and cost a lot of money, it is also a significant safety factor,” Darling said. “It’s a glass building; it just does not make sense.”

In the fight to pass this bill, Cuellar made a plea to judges to “stop playing politics with McAllen, Texas. We were no. 1, and you pushed us down to no. 6. Stop playing the politics.”

Another part of the bill secured $2.8 million for 13 land ports of entry, including two in the state: Brownsville’s Gateway International Bridge and El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas.

The list of ports is ranked by priority, in which Brownsville is ninth and El Paso is seventh. Both are set for site and design renovations, not any new construction projects.

The bill has passed through sub-committee hearings, and will be discussed with the full appropriations committee soon, according to Cuellar.

The next congressional session begins later this month.