EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Democrats usually win Texas’ 16th Congressional District by such wide margins that Republicans often don’t bother to run. That has happened four times in the past two decades.
But things are different in 2020. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar — already tapped by her party for prominent roles and committees – has drawn a GOP opponent.
The challenger is Irene Armendariz-Jackson, a first-time candidate not shy about portraying the incumbent as a self-serving liar and an abortion supporter.
“I believe laws need to protect the most vulnerable in our society. We need to protect babies in the womb,” Armendariz-Jackson told Border Report. “I don’t believe in abortion under any circumstance. I don’t believe there’s a reason to ever dismember a baby in the womb of his mother.”
She followed that with a campaign ad called “La Mentirosa” (The Liar) featuring Pinocchios dancing to the tune of “La Cucaracha” (The Cockroach), a satirical Mexican song played by a mariachi band. Doctored images of Escobar show her growing a long nose.
The incumbent said she is a “firm believer in women’s reproductive rights” and that the government shouldn’t get in involved in decisions between a woman and her doctor.
As for the “Mentirosa” ad, Escobar said her campaign has received complaints from the public who found it offensive. “I believe that these tasteless ads say far more about my opponent than they do about me,” Escobar said. “I’ve chosen to spend my time positively engaging directly with voters, sharing information about my work, accomplishments for the community and my commitment to our values.”
Escobar is running for reelection on a record of sponsoring bills to assist veterans and hold the Trump administration accountable, and on the leadership roles entrusted by her colleagues.
Holding Trump administration accountable
Escobar serves on the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees, is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Democratic Women’s Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and is co-chair of the Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform.
She’s logged airtime on public television channels grilling Department of Homeland Security and immigration enforcement officials on issues ranging from neglect of migrants at detention centers to questionable funding for the border wall and the rights of asylum seekers. She also voted to impeach President Trump.
But her biggest claim to fame came in February, when she delivered the Democratic response, Spanish version, to the President’s state of the union speech.
“Honestly, the biggest threat to our safety is a president and a Republican-controlled Senate action out of self-interest,” Escobar said on national television.
She talked about how the gunman who came to El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019 to kill 23 people and wound another 23 was inspired by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and how Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was holding up more than 200 House bills passed by Democrats with some Republican support.
Some of those bills include her own Homeland Security Improvement Act, which establishes an independent resolution process for handling complaints against immigration agencies and requires Border Patrol and ICE agents to wear body cameras.
Other bills she’s introduced deal with more protection for veterans, amending the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission Act to better prepare both countries to deal with the next pandemic, and a bill defunding the Migrant Protection Protocols program (MPP).
Differing views on immigration
The candidates’ views on further construction of the border wall and on illegal immigration closely mirror their parties’.
Homeland Security leaders credit the MPP program and Mexico’s cooperation for the dramatic decrease in asylum claims and illegal immigration of the past 16 months. But it has also shocked migrant advocates in border cities like El Paso, who’ve seen their individual clients and families sent to await the resolution of their asylum claims in Mexican border cities experiencing widespread drug violence.
Armendariz-Jackson points out that none of the bills Escobar has sponsored have become law. And she says most of the individuals and families who flooded the Southwestern border in 2018 and 2019 were economic migrants, not legitimately entitled asylum seekers.
“My husband is a Border Patrol agent, so I get a front-row seat as to what is really happening on the border,” she told Border Report. “They’re here seeking a better economic life and our law clearly says that you need to qualify for asylum under very specific rules” that involve official persecution for political views or for being members of protected groups.
Further, she alleges the Democrats promote the circumventing of asylum laws by migrants to the point of coaching them on what to say, and have interfered with practices like DNA testing of adults and minors to ensure groups of migrants claiming to be families aren’t “borrowing” someone else’s children to gain immigration privileges.
“Children were being trafficked; some children were being ‘recycled’ by adults who were not their biological parents. Eliminating the DNA testing actually victimizes those who are most vulnerable,” Armendariz-Jackson said.
She added that a Democratic-controlled Congress and White House could give way to socialism and open borders in America.
Escobar has questioned funding for the border wall and has said she favors reforming the immigration system, but with legalization options for those who’ve been in the country for a long time working and observing good behavior.
Regarding this election, Escobar feels confident not only regarding the race for District 16 but for Democrats turning Texas blue.
“Texas is ripe for the taking,” Escobar said at a recent campaign event by Jill Biden on behalf of her husband Joe.