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© © Rebecca Mizrahi


Border Voices

by Veronica Escobar
October 15, 2019

Veronica Escobar is a two-term El Paso County Judge, the current Congresswoman representing TX16, and proud El Pasoan.

Rhetoric, from both politicians and the media, laid the groundwork for the immigration policy that we are seeing today. Congresswoman Escobar discusses how the simple act of listening to the stories of people who live at the border can begin to repair the immigration narrative. 

This interview was conducted and condensed by frank news and originally ran on July 5, 2018.


Tatti: As someone born and raised here in El Paso, as someone who raised your kids here, and is running for Congress here, what is your experience with immigration on day to day basis?

Veronica: I'll tell you, in the New York Times piece, my original draft was much longer. One of the points I really discussed in depth in my first draft was what we're seeing today, what we're witnessing on the U.S./Mexico border with the separation of children from their families and what has sort of become our moral rock bottom, was a long time coming. You get the sense of that in the piece, I think, but I really drilled down in my original draft on how border security has just been this club...used over and over and over. And some politicians, I think without knowing it, have helped dehumanize the border and dehumanize immigrants. That's what's brought us to this point. When there are huge swaths of the country, of Donald Trump's base, who are perfectly okay with what's going on. They have no compassion for migrants who are fleeing their country and fleeing violence and poverty.

I made the mistake the other day of reading the comments beneath a CNN article and I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned that my country and members of my country could have such little compassion. But the fact of the matter is, it's been decades in the making.

There was a point in time when people in our country were totally okay with a wall. When George Bush introduced the wall and asked Congress for funding, good Democrats voted for that wall and said, "We need border security before we can talk about immigration reform."

This dehumanizing of the border has happened as a way for Democrats to compromise, in order to get to immigration reform. Little did they know, or understand, what those of us on the border saw and understood. It's never going to be enough. A wall is never going to be enough. Militarizing the border is not going to be enough.

There will always be a way for them to up the ante and we're never going to get to comprehensive immigration reform until we have an absolute change in the White House, in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate.

We need to begin to tap into and reconnect to our compassion. Along the way, there's a huge task. We've got to rehumanize the border and rehumanize immigrants.

That's why it's been imperative to all of us living on the border to tell the story and to tell the truth about the community we are. About the place we are. About the people that flow back and forth across our ports of entry. It's a story you get tired of having to retell, but it's imperative that we retell it.

The one thing that gives me the most fear right now, is that the public will eventually become numb to the inhumanity that's happening at the hands of the Trump administration. Or, that the media and good journalists will move to something else, which inevitably will happen. When the focus and the spotlight is taken off of the horrific way that people are being treated right now, and have been, then we, again, are going to feel alone.

I can tell you that I think the border has felt alone in this battle for a long time. And what's been really wonderful is that there's finally a national spotlight on it.

Tatti: One can only feel sad for so long.

Veronica: Right. Like, I've seen the horror. I don't wanna see it over and over again.

Tatti: Yeah, exactly. What’s the reality like? What is it to really live along this border?

Veronica: It's such a beautiful, complex, challenging, infuriating thing. It's beautiful because nowhere else do you get an international feel this way. You know what I mean? There are other parts along the U.S./Mexico border, but this is a massive metroplex. The connectivity is beautiful. The deep roots that go under and through the Rio Grande are beautiful. Familial roots. Economic roots. All of that.

But, the thing that's so complex is that there's so many different types of immigrants. There's those who can very easily come back and forth and have a visa and can attend the university; who live in Juarez and they make our lives richer and they make their peers experience richer. They sometimes have no problem. Their biggest problem is the wait times at the border.

Then, you have, I'm mentoring this young woman, who shall remain unnamed, but she's a high school graduate. She's waiting to enroll in one of the local colleges and she is a dreamer. Both her parents are undocumented. Her parents are afraid to go places together because of the fear that they will both be deported at the same time. I can't even imagine growing up like that... in fear, that when one of my parents leaves ... because not both of them are gonna leave at the same time... they may not come back. That we may not know where they are or what's happened. That they've been deported. Then, the grueling experience of living in two different countries and not being able to be reunited, then that happens.

She was also the victim of domestic abuse by her boyfriend who knew that she was undocumented and who used it over her. Used it as a weapon. And now, with a president who essentially has said, "We're not gonna allow asylees to claim domestic violence as one of the allowable methods for entry”, what does that say to young women like her? She's survived this horrific relationship, a near death experience, and you have a president who doesn't place a premium on saving her life. Everybody's experience is different, but living here and knowing people like that...And I'm a citizen! I'm a third generation El Pasoan. My family's been here for well over 100 years, so I had the good fortune of being born on the other side of that skinny little river.

All of these experiences really enrich our humanity and our compassion and it's part of what, I think, has made El Pasoans different. And when people who don't have those experiences, and they don't have someone they care about who's afraid that their parents will be deported, it gives them the excuse to be without that compassion. But having grown up here with those very diverse experiences all around me, has made me a better human being. I think it's made my kids better human beings.

Tatti: This conversation becomes very complicated when you begin to conflate Honduran refugees with Mexican economic migrants with Homeland security’s job to deter threats. There are all these different angles and we're just lumping them together.

Veronica: We are. And I'll tell you, I have my own concerns about my own side. Like, people who I'm politically aligned with. With the new calls for abolishing ICE, for example. I just wrote this long essay on my Facebook page, letting people know, in El Paso and on the border, we've been dealing with issues regarding ICE and Customs Border Protection and Border Patrol for a long time. Abolishing ICE doesn't get to the heart of so many other complex issues.

As an example, Border Patrol is now using this weird multiplier effect to document attacks against them. So, if you have five Border Patrol agents and there's three kids who threw two rocks ... Even if those rocks didn't hit any of those agents ... Border Patrol in south Texas is now taking the number of agents ... so, five agents, times the three kids, times the number of rocks. That's happening so they can help ratchet up the fear mongering of the border being unsafe. That's a huge issue. Abolishing ICE doesn't impact that.

Another thing we saw was CDP agents blocking asylum seekers, not allowing them to step on U.S. soil in a violation of asylum laws. Abolishing ICE doesn't impact that.

As somebody who's grown up here and who has become intimately familiar with a lot of these issues, I get concerned when we try to distill things down to a very simplistic, superficial solution. The other side is already doing that. You know? And this is a huge mess. There are issues that are deeply entrenched in the culture of federal law enforcement that we have to get to.

I just feel that it's important for people to listen to border voices. And to listen to people who've been on the front lines and people who have lived through this, in their own communities, for a long time. Because only then will we really get to the root of the problem. And the root of the problem is, frankly, in terms of ICE...that the Obama administration tripled their budget so that they could quickly deport a lot of people. Many of us on the border were infuriated by that and we raised our voices. And even then, the rest of the country was mostly silent.

Tatti: Listening to border voices is so important. It seems to me that Texan politicians should be leading this conversation, and there feels like a lack of it. If you could prompt the highest elected officials in Texas to answer questions on immigration what would you ask them?

Veronica: One of the things I've been curious about for a long time is how do they define border security? Specifically. What does a secure border look like? Very specifically.

For many of them, they'll dance around it. They'll say, "Oh, we've got such a porous border." And what that tells me, is that they want a border that's completely sealed. And I think they need to be nailed on that. Or, it needs to be sealed to people they deem undesirable. So, tell me who's undesirable? It's mostly brown poor people. That's who's undesirable to them.

We need to drill down with them to expose, I think in many cases, what is policy rooted in bigotry. You're creating a bottleneck to trade and people and you're not even truly catching all the drugs. And then you look at our outdated drug policy. It's too complicated to solve the problem and it's too easy for them to feed in to the bigotry of their anti-immigrant base.