Saturday, May 18, 2024

Freshman Veronica Escobar and her hometown on the front lines of the border battle

Veronica Escobar, a freshman Democrat, made history along with Rep. Sylvia Garcia, also Democrat, in the 2018 midterm elections by becoming the first two Latinas elected to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Since Escobar arrived in Washington, El Paso has become an epicenter of Trump’s immigration battle. Beyond erecting thicker, higher and more barriers to close off the border, the city is next door to Tornillo, Texas, where hundreds of young migrant children were held for months in tents.

Beyond that, before Trump’s administration told the public it was separating children from their parents on the border, it ran a pilot project in El Paso that took the children into government custody. That has thrust Escobar and her border city in the middle of an epic tug of war between Congress and the executive branch, but she was in a similar fight before, one that put her on a political track that led to Congress.

Escobar joins the most diverse Congress ever elected, including a record number of women, the first Muslim women, the first Palestinian-American, the first Somali-American, the first Native American women, the first Ecuadorian-American, a slew of millennials and the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress. That, Escobar said, puts pressure on her and others to make sure they are not known as the “onlys.”

Escobar’s first hire was her chief of staff, who is Latino. “As members of Congress, if we expect diversity, then we have to live it,” she said. “And we’ve got to nurture that. We’ve got to mentor that. Whether it be elected offices, appointed offices or hired staff.”

Soon after the celebrations of their swearing-ins, members were faced with the government shutdown and the wrestling match with the president over funding for the border wall. Escobar was one of 19 Democrats to vote against the $333 billion spending bill that reopened the government.

Escobar said that she is not against certain types of fencing and enforcement altogether but that it needs to be better thought out so that it is targeting the drug trade and other threats but still protects wildlife and the environment. She said fencing in El Paso now is rusting and is making “our country look like a junkyard.”