The November 2018 election is coming up, and more women than ever are running for Congress. In our She’s Running series, HelloGiggles is highlighting some of the young, progressive women candidates who are reshaping the face of politics just by campaigning — and could have a hand in reshaping our future. Still need to register to vote? Do it here.
For over a decade, Veronica Escobar has fought against corruption in her hometown of El Paso, Texas— she brought significant reforms to the county government and initiated legislation that created the only County Ethics Commission in the state of Texas—and helped to rebuild local government as county commissioner and as an El Paso County judge. Now, she’s decided to run for Congress to not only advocate for her community on a national level, but also to battle against the racist and xenophobic remarks that Donald Trump continues to make about Latinx immigrants and the damage he has caused at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As the Democratic nominee for El Paso’s 16th Congressional District—she won her primary in March 2018 against former board president of the El Paso Independent School District, Dori Fenenbock—Escobar will become the first Latina congresswomen from the state if elected.
According to EMILY’s list, “[Escobar] has successfully fought to build El Paso’s first children’s hospital, extended health care benefits to the domestic partners of LGBTQ county employees, and helped pass a resolution denouncing Texas’ discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ targeting transgender students.”
She’s worked tirelessly to grow jobs and expand access to health care, transportation, economic equality, and overall quality of life for El Pasoans, but since the 2016 presidential election, she’s seen a regression.
If elected to Congress, Escobar says she will continue to work for improvements in her community as she’s always done. “I’ve been very vocal by speaking up at committees at the federal, at the state level, and also in writing,” Escobar told HelloGiggles. In The New York Times, for example, she’s published op-eds about how Trump will hurt her border town, why the “border crisis” is a myth, and how the “immigration crisis” in El Paso is fake news.
“Here in El Paso, we’ve had a front-row seat to watch the militarization of the border: There is a wall, drones fly overhead, and state troopers and National Guard members have been sent to our community. And, of course, images of these tactics, seen on screens around the country, further fuel misperceptions, and xenophobia,” Escobar wrote in The New York Times.
Escobar spoke with HelloGiggles about the importance of running for Congress during the Trump administration, possibly making history as one of the first Latina women from Texas elected to Congress, and about the significance of going out and exercising our right to vote.
Hellogiggles: I read that you resigned as county judge for El Paso County Court in Texas so that you could run for Congress—what prompted your decision?
Veronica Escobar: So, first of all, [I want to clarify] that I was not a jurist. The county judge position in Texas is like the CEO of the organization, so I’m just the chief executive of county government. [It was] a job I really loved and was very sad to quit, but U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke decided that instead of running for re-election, he was going to run for the Senate against Ted Cruz so he said he was leaving behind an open seat. I felt very, very strongly that in the era of Donald Trump that we needed a very strong, zealous advocate in Congress—someone to follow Beto. He’s my friend and I’m a big supporter, and he was a great advocate. [I thought] we needed someone as vocal, and as strong, and as passionate about the U.S.-Mexico border as he was, and someone who would fight back against policies of cruelty, racism, xenophobia, and hatred. So I felt this urgent call to serve at that level because of that vacancy and because of who’s in the White House right now.
HG: Texas has also never elected a Latina woman to Congress, despite the fact that nearly one-fifth of the state’s population is Latinx. How does it feel to possibly become one of the first?
VE: Hopefully we will have at least two Latinas elected from Texas, myself and Sylvia Garcia, and possibly a third. What’s really exciting to me is the idea of a border community making history. Border communities like mine, especially in Texas, we have been targets of not just the racist Trump administration, but we have been targeted by our own governor, Republican Greg Abbott, our own lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, our state legislature with laws that are meant to really promote xenophobia and racism. So the fact that a border community could be making history, to me, is beautiful, because it’s a repudiation of very hateful policy. If there were a victory and if El Paso made history, for me, it’s far more important that it belongs to the community and to the borders than to me.
HG: As you mentioned, we’re living during a time when the Trump administration keeps attacking our communities that can’t always fight back—so how has living in a border town influenced the work you do and who you advocate for?
VE: I have always been deeply in love with my community. Well, not always, I shouldn’t say that because there was a time in my youth that I wanted to leave. But throughout my adult life, I have been very deeply in love with my community and with the families of this community. For me, the border is a very magical, unique, special place. It’s a place to be celebrated and to be honored, and to be revered, and a place that presents a significant opportunity not just for our region, but for our country. It’s been incredibly frustrating and infuriating to hear politicians, whether it be in Texas or in Washington D.C., lie about us. They outright lie about my community and about our families, so over the course of my adult life, I have made it my purpose to be a defender of the place that I call home and the communities that I love so deeply. I feel a commitment to that goal of spreading the truth about the border, just as a citizen. But I feel like public office definitely gives you a [platform] that is necessary, especially during this day and age.
HG: What is your stance on immigration reform in the U.S.? If elected to Congress, what change do you want to see?
VE: I agree with the vast majority of Americans who believe that our immigration laws are broken. It’s a system that is broken and it’s a system that is not working. What we are seeing and witnessing right now is an administration that is taking existing laws and using them in the most inhumane and cruel way. But it should prove to all of us that it’s the laws that really need to change. I support humane and just comprehensive immigration reform that will help people and migrants who are living in the shadows. Otherwise, law-abiding residents of our country who have children here, who work hard, who came here for economic reasons—I would like to see them on a path to citizenship.
Many people argue that folks should do it “the right way” and they should “get in line.” Well, for the vast majority of migrants in communities like mine who come from Mexico or Central America, there is no line, there’s no line that exists that they should get in, that would help them legalize their status. There’s a special line for people like Donald Trump’s wife’s family and Donald Trump’s wife, there’s a line for folks like that. But there’s no line for hard-working people who break their backs to build up our country, and to put food on our tables.
So I feel very strongly that we need to create a path to citizenship for people who are living in the shadows; we have to reform the way that we define who is eligible for asylum. Migration patterns have changed over the last two to three decades, and people leave their countries for different reasons, and we have to be flexible and open to changing asylum laws so that we recognize the role we have played in creating instability in other countries and that we accept responsibility by helping.
I also think we need to reform the Department of Homeland Security and that includes agencies like ICE, border patrol and customs, and border protection. I’m not an anti-enforcer person, but I do believe that we have to have transparency, oversight, and accountability over these agencies.
HG: Aside from immigration, what are other issues that you want to tackle if elected to Congress?
VE: Health care is the #1 issue for my community. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, and family after family believed that they should have access to affordable health care and I am right there with them. We need to have universal care of some sort, so health care is a huge issue for me. Our global economy [is another issue I want to focus on] as we are a community that thrives on trade, so I want to make sure that we preserve trade but also that we do it in a way that protects labor.
I’m also someone who is very passionate about the environment and ensuring that my children have a healthy planet. What we’re seeing right now is our ice caps melting before our very eyes; we cannot ever rebuild the ice caps. Once they’re gone, they are gone—we are in a very dangerous trajectory that we can’t stop, but we should be doing absolutely everything in our power to slow down. Immigration, health care, the economy, and the environment are the top [issues I want to tackle] but I have a very long list of things that I am passionate about.
HG: Throughout this campaign, what are some of the toughest challenges you’ve encountered?
VE: One of the challenges is increasing voter turnout. More than ever, there is an urgent need for border communities like mine to break voter turnout records. We are under attack by the Trump administration, we are under attack by members of our state government, and if we are ever going to see justice or humanity restored in America, then communities like mine need to turn out and vote in record numbers. So our big challenge is ensuring that we break records during these midterm elections.
HG: Some people have mixed feelings about going out to vote, whether it be on a local or national level. What would you say to people who are able to vote but think their vote doesn’t make a difference?
VE: When people have told me that, I have pointed to elections in Virginia, in Ohio, and in other states, where elections have come down to not just hundreds of people but, for example, the Virginia state legislature, there was a tie. One person could have decided that election. But instead, we have a flipping of the coins, and it was a coin flip that decided the election, not a person. So every single vote is important and critical. We need to realize that our vote could be the one vote that makes the difference.
HG: What’s your advice for young women who want to get involved in politics?
VE: I would tell them to just do it. If this is your passion, they need to follow it. It was my passion and I started 20 years ago. I started knocking on doors for other people, for candidates who inspired me. There’s no better way to understand politics and campaigns and to really get to know your community than by volunteering for someone who inspires you. And if you’re not ready to run yet, I get it, believe me. I never thought I would have been an elected official. I started in politics by getting excited about candidates and by knocking on doors for them, phone banking, and that gave me fuel to think about my own contributions in a different way and it also gave me the confidence to know that I can knock on a door and ask someone for a vote. If I can do it for other people, I can do it for myself.