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After four years of “compound trauma,” Escobar sees hope for El Paso at dawn of Biden administration

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When Joe Biden asked Rep. Veronica Escobar to endorse him last year, the El Paso Democrat said she put a condition on her support.

“I told him I needed him to commit to coming to El Paso post-COVID and he said yes. And I am not going to let up on that. I intend on making that ask consistently, frequently, until it happens,” she said Wednesday after attending the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Seeing the border first-hand is important for a number of reasons, Escobar said.

Rep. Veronica Escobar

“Obviously the immigration component is important, but that’s one facet of who we are,” she said in an interview with El Paso Matters. “I want him to understand and learn from folks who have to cross back and forth, those trade corridors and people corridors, how outdated they are and how we really can and should be a site for innovation, modernization, creativity in order to be an engine running on all cylinders for the national economy.”

Generational poverty along the border also is an issue the nation must face, Escobar said. That involves fixing disparities in access to health care and education, as well as diversifying the border economy.

Escobar, who brought her son Cristian to the inauguration, said she is hopeful that Biden can enact key parts of his agenda, but she said a closely divided Congress will limit what is possible.

“There’s going to be some real challenges ahead because many of us are going to want government to respond as boldly as possible to the crises that we have on hand. But we have to be realistic about what can get through a very narrow majority in both the House and the Senate,” she said.

A top issue for Escobar is how the new administration addresses the border on topics like trade, infrastructure, enforcement and immigration. She has been critical of fellow Democrats at times for elevating security concerns above all other border issues.

“This was the exact conversation, among other topics, that I had with then-candidate Biden — I and many others — about the need to prioritize comprehensive immigration reform. But for me in particular, what I told him was that Democrats also needed to stop using the rhetoric that linked immigration policy with border enforcement, border militarization and quote unquote, securing the border,” Escobar said. 

“And so I was just very relieved and happy when he made the announcement, there was no linkage there with border security or further militarization,” she said of Biden’s proposed immigration bill announced earlier this week.

Escobar described the Trump administration as four years of “compound trauma” for El Paso. The administration began its family separation policy in El Paso in 2017. It struggled to cope with a humanitarian crisis in 2018-19 as tens of thousands of Central American migrants crossed the border in hopes of seeking asylum. 

Migrant families were forced to sleep under the Paso del Norte Bridge in March 2019 as the Trump administration struggled to address a surge of asylum seekers from Central America. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

She believes Trump’s rhetoric was responsible in part for the Aug. 3, 2019, white supremacist terror attack that killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart. Escobar said that foreshadowed Trump’s incitement that led an insurrectionist mob to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“That should have been a wake-up call to people within the agencies, the federal agencies that combat domestic terrorism. But it wasn’t on all fronts. It was not a reckoning, unfortunately. And so we were left to pick up the pieces and console one another and to get beyond our grief together,” Escobar said.  

And she said Hispanics have paid a disproportionate price for Trump’s failure to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 2,100 El Pasoans have died of COVID-19 so far, one of the highest per capita death rates among U.S. urban areas.

“We’ve had to bear witness and live through such inhumanity and crimes against humanity that it has been compound trauma. It’s been trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma. We all know that El Paso is very resilient and an incredible community, but it’s going to take time still for the community to heal from four very painful and dark years,” Escobar said.

“El Pasoans can rest easy knowing we fought our way through every single one of those events and we did it with dignity.”  

Cover photo: Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, and her son Cristian Pleters attended the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo courtesy of Veronica Escobar)

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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