El Paso and Immigration

Yesterday I was interviewed by a reporter for a national publication. The reporter asked me a question that I had never been asked before. It made me pause to formulate my answer. I had to think about the answer because although I’ve alluded to it before I had never addressed it in such a way as to be clear about it. The question was whether El Paso was pro-immigrant.

El Paso, being 80% or more Hispanic is considered to be pro-immigrant. The national belief is that El Paso is supports immigrants and immigration because it is on the border. However, the truth is that El Paso and its residents have a love-hate relationship with immigrants and its neighbor city, Cd. Juárez.

It is not a simple case of being pro or anti-immigrant.

As I told the reporter it was best for me to illustrate my response by using examples.

The first example is two of El Paso’s best-known elected officials – Veronica Escobar and Beto O’Rourke. As you likely know, O’Rourke is running for president and the issue that has been tagged to him is immigration.

Immigration is a national topic. O’Rourke has used immigration as a talking point for his presidential ambitions. But O’Rourke’s immigration position is very unclear. It is assumed that Beto supports immigrants, but he has yet to articulate a clear position on how he will deal with it.

Julian Castro poignantly pointed this out at the last Democratic presidential debate when he embarrassed Beto’s lack of a concrete plan to address immigration.

The reason for this is because of the love-hate relationship El Pasoans have about immigration. Beto will tell anyone listening that he favors immigration and even goes so far as to point to his nostalgic memories of Cd. Juárez and Hispanics he knows. But Beto has offered no clear position on the immigration issue.

Likewise, Veronica Escobar best exemplifies the love-hate relationship with immigrants.

Escobar also likes to refer to nostalgic moments involving Latinos and the Hispanic culture, but her legislative record is clear about how she sees immigrants. While the County Judge, Escobar argued for keeping a federal contract with the Marshal’s Service to keep immigrants in the county jail. Escobar argued that it kept the immigrants closer to their legal representatives while keeping El Paso’s jobs funded.

Fringe publications have insinuated that Veronica Escobar’s staff members “coached” immigrants in Cd. Juárez to help them cross the border. This is yet to be confirmed. I do not believe this a true account. I believe it is more of false narrative created by propaganda. Who created it is immaterial.

It is important to point out that Escobar’s husband is one of the immigration judges that adjudicates orders of deportation in El Paso. Her husband was appointed by the Trump administration, although they have argued that he first applied under Obama.

Regardless, one of the immigration judges in El Paso is married to Veronica Escobar.

But most telling, as with Beto, is Escobar’s legislative record. We already know that she kept the Marshal’s Service contract to warehouse immigrants in the El Paso County Jail. Understanding that the controversy of immigration and the caging of children is paramount, one would assume that Escobar has offered legislation in Congress to deal with the immigration crisis.

In April, her office issued a press release about the introduction of her “first piece of legislation”. Escobar offered H.R. 2203. According to her press release, the legislation is intended to “ensure that the Department of Homeland Security addresses border issues in a responsible and human manner.”

The proposed legislation proposes to establish a commission “to examine the handling of migrant families and children apprehended along the United States-Mexico border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection since January 2017.” Her proposed legislation also purports to establish an Ombudsman and a border stakeholder advisory committee to accept and review complaints about the Border Patrol.

The proposed legislation also attempts to end family separation and terminate the remain México protocol established by Trump for asylum seekers.

In other words, her proposed legislation attempts to add oversight to Customs and Border Patrol. Other legislators have signed up to the bill. It is expected that the House will vote on the bill in the next few weeks.

Escobar’s media message is crafted around the notion of being the “voice of reason” for border issues.

Escobar’s legislation seems to support the notion that Escobar is a proponent of immigrants.

However, the issue of immigration goes beyond the issue of asylum and family separations.

On one hand it can be argued that Veronica Escobar is looking to address the pressing matter of family separations on the border and abusive practices by immigration officials.

While on the other hand Escobar’s legislative history of wanting to keep incarcerating immigrants at her county jail to fund operations betrays the love-hate relationship of immigration in El Paso.

Is Veronica Escobar using the drama of family separations for politics or does she really care? It is hard to see. But, her husband working as an immigration judge, could be more effective in holding immigration officials accountable at the same time having a more immediate effect on the situation than waiting for legislation, studies and the establishment of bureaucratic processes.

One would think that if Escobar is so concerned about family separations she would discuss it with her husband and encourage him to do something about it as a judge. It does not appear she has leading us to wonder if the legislation is nothing more than propaganda.

Likewise, officially El Paso city and county governments have yet to adopt immigrant-friendly ordinances. El Paso has never been a “sanctuary city”. As a matter of fact, the official policy by law enforcement agencies in El Paso is to fully cooperate with immigration officials.

From personal experience I see that the 80% Hispanic and predominant Spanish speaking population does not translate into an immigrant friendly city. Derogatory comments about visitors from Juárez or Mexican citizens is commonplace in El Paso. “FrontChihs” to blaming people from Juárez for high taxes, deteriorating streets and trash is the common sentiment in the community.

Even speaking Spanish in public is a love-hate issue as many El Pasoans love to say they speak Spanish while at the same time offering a look of disapproval for speaking Spanish to them that is too Mexican. Others respond to Spanish queries with the look of ‘just because I am Hispanic does not mean I speak Spanish’ on their faces as response.

In recent months Donald Trump visited El Paso and had a large attendance present at his location. Just last week, Donald Trump Jr. also visited El Paso and his rally was well-attended.

The love-hate relationship in El Paso with immigrants, especially those from México can best be described as El Paso needs the Juárez economy (NAFTA) and the detention beds for immigrants to keep the local economy humming along while at the same time not embracing its closeness to Juárez and México to avoid be seen as too Mexican. The only time the closeness to the border or immigrants in the city’s midst is proclaimed is when officials argue that the city is one of the safest cities in the nation.

It is a love-hate relationship with very little love for Juareños.

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