The Wall Street Journal calls him “a pro-growth Member [of Congress] in the John F. Kennedy mold.” The Dallas Morning News says he's "one of the seven best Texas legislators." The San Antonio Express-News says, “Cuellar has worked hard and demonstrated an independent nonpartisan mind-set,” and also notes that “Cuellar's willingness to place his district ahead of his political party is refreshing.” The Ft. Worth Star Telegram says "How does he do it?" calling him "one of the hardest-working lawmakers on Capitol Hill."
The Early Years
Born as one of eight children to migrant farm workers in Laredo, Texas, Congressman Cuellar was raised with strong family values and an unwavering work ethic to attain an advanced education. As the most degreed member of Congress, he points to education as the platform for his two decades of public service to Texas.
After earning his associate’s degree from Laredo Community College, he used the skills and confidence he gained to enroll in Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While attending Georgetown, he washed dishes and worked other jobs to afford his college degree, graduating from Georgetown Cum Laude. When he returned to Texas, Congressman Cuellar completed a master’s degree in International Trade at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) and earned a law degree and Ph.D. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.
In 1981, Congressman Cuellar opened his own law firm and became a licensed customs broker in 1983. He worked at his beloved alma mater, TAMIU, as an adjunct professor for International Commercial Law from 1984 to 1986. The following year, Congressman Cuellar decided to fully dedicate his life to public service and served as a Texas State Representative from 1987 until he was appointed as the Texas Secretary of State in 2001.
Congressman Cuellar and his wife, Imelda, reside in Laredo, Texas with their two daughters, Christy and Catie.
During his 14 years as Laredo’s State Representative, Congressman Cuellar served in influential leadership positions in the preeminent House Appropriations, Higher Education, and Calendar Committees. At the same time, he was a national leader who served on several national legislative committees dealing with state budgets, the U.S.-Mexico border and international trade.
While in the Texas State Legislature, he coauthored the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which ensured health care for thousands of previously uninsured children, and he co-sponsored the largest tax cut in Texas history, which included a three-day tax holiday for consumers and small businesses.
He never forgot his responsibility in keeping the doors of opportunity open for students willing to work hard. He authored the TEXAS Grant program – the largest in Texas history – that today gives thousands of students the opportunity to achieve a college education.
As Secretary of State, he redefined the office by making it easier for Texans to voice their concerns and opinions. Today, Texans still benefit from his new voter initiatives to register, educate, and protect voters’ rights, as well as his efforts to expand the Border/Mexico Affairs office to help the colonias. He also implemented new technology to make state agencies more customer-friendly, transparent and accountable.
In 2005, Congressman Cuellar became the first Laredoan in over 20 years elected to represent the 28th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Work in Congress
During his first three terms in Congress, he's stood out among his congressional colleagues as an advocate for better government, commerce and trade, small businesses and border security. Congressman Cuellar is widely recognized as a leader on homeland security, border security and national emergency preparedness and response.
In the 114th Congress, he currently serves on the influential House Appropriations Committee making him the only Texas Democrat to serve on the committee. This committee is in charge of overseeing the Federal budget, reviewing proposed expenditures and crafting the legislation that outlines annual spending for government agencies. Within this committee, Congressman Cuellar serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Congressman Cuellar has been a legislative champion for government transparency and accountability, authoring and passing legislation in Congress to reform federal agency procedures and to eliminate bureaucratic redundancy. He serves as the Region IV Representative of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, where he guides policy and legislation in Congress through his leadership role. Congressman Cuellar is also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
As a member of the fiscally-conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Congressman Cuellar is dedicated to reducing the nation's deficit by reforming how Congress appropriates federal funds. In 2009, he worked with his Blue Dog colleagues to help pass the landmark Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) legislation to reign-in federal spending and restore the budget surpluses of the 1990s.
As Chairman and founder of the bi-partisan House Pro-Trade Caucus, Congressman Cuellar is widely regarded as a national trade expert in Washington D.C. Across Texas, businesses and communities alike applaud his support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement. As the largest exporter of goods in the nation, Texas currently grosses more than $100 billion a year by conducting trade with other nations.
For the 113th and 112th Congress, Congressman Cuellar served as the Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee in the House Homeland Security Committee. He believes in strong national security and homeland security efforts. Since coming to Congress, he's worked hand in hand with Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement to reinforce border security initiatives along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
In 2010, the House Homeland Security Committee appointed him as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism.
In 2007, he authored the Prosperous and Secure Neighbor Alliance Act to combat drug trafficking and weapons smuggling within border communities. In 2009, he authored and passed legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to create a high-level U.S.-Mexico Commission to increase interoperability between law enforcement agencies domestically and in Mexico.
Annually, Congressman Cuellar hosts border security roundtables and conferences with federal, state and local elected officials, law enforcement agencies and local interest groups to solicit input and suggestions on how to better combat drug trafficking along the border.
In 2009, he authored a bill in Congress known as the Southern Border Security Taskforce Act of 2009, which directs the Department of Homeland Security to create a task force to coordinate the efforts of federal, state and local border law enforcement officials to protect U.S. border cities from violence associated with drug trafficking, gunrunning, human smuggling, and kidnapping. In December 2009, this bill was included in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP).
As the only Texas Democrat to have served on the House Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress, Congressman Cuellar is a staunch advocate for the 12,000 farms and ranches in the 28th District of Texas. During his third term in Congress, he worked closely with the Texas Farm Service Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to secure drought relief assistance for Texas' farms. In 2008, he also passed an amendment in the Farm Bill to address cattle fever ticks, making it the first federal bill to specifically address this major South Texas concern. In 2009, Congressman Cuellar helped secure $9.9 million for Cattle Fever Tick Research. Because of his commitments to agriculture and framers, he has earned the Outstanding Service to Agriculture Award from the Texas Farm Bureau in 2007, the Golden Triangle Award from the National Farmers Union in 2009, the Legislative White Hat Award for Outstanding voting Recording by the Texas Farmers Union in 2010, and the Friend of Farm Bureau Award by the Farm Bureau Federation in 2012.
Since coming to Congress, Congressman Cuellar has been a national advocate for equal opportunity for men and women of all backgrounds and believes firmly that a quality education, strong family values and a great work ethic can increase opportunities for his constituents in the 28th District of Texas. He continues to improve education, national security, access to affordable health care and veterans assistance programs as a member of the 114th Congress.