El Paso Times, Adam Powell
Just days after announcing her landmark immigration reform bill, the Dignity Act of 2023, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar hosted a delegation of House Democrats in El Paso for a firsthand look at the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The contingent of lawmakers ? which included U.S. Reps. Judy Chu, of California; Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin; Madeleine Dean, of Pennsylvania; Sara Jacobs, of California; and Andrea Salinas, of Oregon ? toured a number of sites critical to El Paso's migrant response effort, including the Paso Del Norte bridge, Sacred Heart Church, Annunciation House and other sites.
"They are here, really, for the singular purpose of understanding what's happening on the border with a 360-degree perspective," the El Paso Democrat said during a post-tour briefing. "And what I mean by that is that our visits to communities like El Paso are different in that we talk to every party that's involved in border work."
While visiting the Paso Del Norte bridge, legislators were able to visit the facility where asylum-seekers are processed and get a look at the immense amount of commerce that traverses across the border each day. At the same time, Escobar noted, they got a look at how fentanyl is making its way into the country.
"There's a lot being said about where drugs are entering from," Escobar said. "About 90% of them come in through land ports of entry."
At Annunciation House, as well as some of the other facilities the delegation visited, lawmakers had an opportunity to meet with migrants and ask them questions and hear a little about their struggles.
House delegation says current situation better than under previous administration
For Chu, her visit Friday stood in stark contrast to her last visit, which came in 2018 when a surge of undocumented minors was arriving. Chu said one of her main reasons for visiting then was to see a processing center in Tornillo.
"We were actually horrified by what we saw," she recalled, adding that all the other facilities she toured during that visit were in a similar state of overcrowding, stifling heat and inadequate care.
Chu said she was "pleasantly surprised" during Friday's visit, saying the migrants in local facilities looked "like they were being treated well" and no longer were housed in hot, overcrowded cells. She recalled the story of one trans detainee who reported being severely beaten before seeking asylum in the United States but said that the detainee and other LGBTQ detainees had been treated humanely while in custody.
"This is a world of difference today," Chu said.
Dean likewise recalled her previous visit, saying she saw "grievous and troubling things" happening at the border during former President Donald Trump's tenure, but said the current situation shows an understanding of the humanitarian nature of the situation among those on the frontlines of the response.
"I commend the humanity of the folks doing this work," she said, vowing to return to Philadelphia to tell the truth about the situation at the border, a truth she said is often lost amid news bites and video clips.
Jacobs, of San Diego, who likewise represents a border community, said too much weight has been placed on local governments when it comes to responding to immigration needs and the federal government has to take up the issue in a substantive way.
"There is a humane and orderly way to address this situation," she said.
The biggest contrast between her city and the situation in El Paso, she said, is that in California, the governor is an ally, whereas in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott goes "out of his way" to be "punitive and harsh" in his response to any issue along the border.
Salinas, who represents a district with the largest Latino population in Oregon, said it was important that the entire country take the border situation seriously, as it affects not only border communities but the country as a whole.
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